Friday, May 19, 2017

Mixed Signals

“And mention when We said to the angels:Prostrate to Adam! So they prostrated but Iblis. He had been among the jinn and he disobeyed the command of His Lord. Will you then take him to yourselves and his offspring to be protectors other than Me while they are an enemy to you? Miserable it is to give in place of Him ones who are unjust!” Quran18:50

And

“And certainly We have diversified in this, the Quran, every kind of example for humanity. And the human being has been more than anything argumentative. Nothing prevented humanity from believing when the guidance drew near to them or from asking forgiveness of their Lord but that approaches them customs of the ancient ones or approaches upon them the punishment face to face. We send not the ones who are sent bus as ones who give good tidings and as ones who warn. And those who are ungrateful dispute with falsehood in order to refute the Truth by it and they take My signs to themselves and what they were warned of – in mockery. And who does greater wrong than he who was reminded of the signs of his Lord, turns aside from them and forgets what his hands have put forward? Truly We have laid sheaths over their hearts so that they should not understand it and heaviness in their ears and if you call them to the guidance, yet they will not be truly guided ever.” Quran 18:54-57

Last month, my discussion of Iblis led us to the question of free will and destiny. Today, we will be undertaking a similarly thorny theological question, that of God’s command (amr) versus God’s will (irāda). The title of my khutbah is ‘Mixed Signals’.

In the ayahs I just read from the Quran, if you keep reading on, at ayat 18:60 , you come to the start of a journey. Prophet Musa, peace be upon him, is trying to find a spiritual teacher.  That’s right, this is the prophet known as the "Law-Giver" who is looking for someone to teach HIM something new. “Moses said to him; May I follow you so that you be teaching me something of what you have been taught of right judgment?” Quran 18:66. The person he finds embodies this paradox of God’s rule versus God’s will. To briefly recap, this teacher acts in ways that are against common law (destruction of property, murder) as well as common sense (going out of his way to be helpful to people who are jerks to him). Musa is not happy about any of this, and in the end he can no longer continue as a student because of, what he perceives to be, irrational behavior. Before the teacher dismisses him, he tells Musa that he was acting in accordance with God’s will, and the teacher’s actions do make sense in this context. Before we get into Iblis and God’s will, I want to point out that this topic is not a theoretical theological question. When the Taliban attempted to kill Malala Yusefzai (a girl who blogged about the importance of educating girls), their justification for this murderous act was to cite the murder of a youth who, “…should constrain them (his parents) with defiance and ingratitude so we wanted their Lord to cause for them in exchange one better than he in purity and nearer in sympathy.” 18:80-81

To backtrack with respect to Iblis: last time we examined Iblis’ excuse that he was “set up “ by God, that God knew Iblis wouldn’t bow to Adam and therefore Iblis is just a victim of destiny. God needed a fall guy. Rumi effectively quashes this by saying that humans do have free will, we do have a choice to be bad or good, we must take responsibility for our choices, and humbly ask for forgiveness when we make poor choices.

A different tactic Iblis uses to justify his behavior is that while God commanded the angels to bow (an example of amr), God’s will (irāda) is that only God Himself is worthy of prostration. Since God’s command was clearly in contradiction to His will, Iblis insists that God intended for the command to be ignored. The command to bow to Adam was a test for the angels and jinn, and Iblis was the only one who passed the test! Iblis’ reasoning  is similar to dealing with south Asian extended family. If these family members arrive at your doorstep and you offer to make them tea and they will most likely say, “No no, don’t bother. We’re not thirsty.” If you believe them and don’t make the tea, you fail the test.  They want that tea. They just don’t want to have to tell you to bring it to them. They want you to identify their deepest desire, their will, without being told. And believe me, if you don’t pass the tea test, you will be hearing it that for, what will seem like, an eternity. This kind of “following the irāda” rationale does not only play out at home, we see it as a national/political philosophy of a “pre-emptive strike”. Our politicians believe they know the deepest desire of our enemies, and so they act in a way that they feel is consistent with protecting national interests.

Getting back to Iblis, there is a manifest conflict between God’s will (irāda) and His command (amr).  However, what is up for debate is what line of action should one take in the face of this kind of paradox.  How do you obey a command that contradicts the will of God? This was a big concern to Sufis very early on. Al-Makki, in Qut al-qulub, goes through a long series of arguments, and in the end asserted that God orders one thing and wills the coming into existence of its opposite. Hasan Al-Basri answers that God does not punish because of the unfolding of His will, but He punishes individuals for going against His commands.

The bottom line for these scholars is that no one, and no jinn such as Iblis, has the right to try and figure out the difference between His will and His command. The challenge in such a paradox is to accept both in humble submission, even when the circumstances seem completely beyond human reason. Believers are enjoined to conform to God’s command while, at the same time, recognizing the mysteriousness of His will. Furthermore, by accepting both, the believer must take on the responsibility for which these consequences entail. The best you can do in such potential lose-lose situations, is hope that God in His mercy will look upon you with compassion.

For some Sufis, the paradox between amr and irāda Iblis encounters when he is ordered to bow down before Adam is a major element in his tragedy.  They see Iblis’ inflexible monotheism as a sign of his strength of character, nobility, and victimhood.

In the 13th century, the spiritual writer Ibn Ghanim Al-Maqdisi explored further the irāda-amr conflict in Taflis Iblis (The Bankruptcy of Iblis). Al-Maqdisi tells the reader that human life is like a circle whose circumference is God’s command, amr, and at the center is God’s will, irāda. A crisis arises when you have a situation where amr says “Do!” and irāda says “Do not!”.  Choosing only one (irada at the expense of amr or vice versa), which is what most of us tend to do when confronted with this kind of paradox, leads to destruction. The very few in number right-guided people understand how to navigate both. How do you navigate both? Let’s look first at what happens when you choose one and ignore the other.

People who cling to amr (command) and ignore God’s irāda ascribe the creation of actions to their own selves. God created the individual self, but God has no part in its evil deeds. The self (nafs) alone are the source of evil actions. The theological problem with this argument is that it makes man the creator of evil actions. If you believe that God does not create, decree, or will sin and evil, and if you believe that you- all by yourself- will it, then it logically follows that you have brought something into existence apart from God’s will. In fact, your will is stronger than God’s will and judgment  (because look at how successfully sinful we are!) while God’s will is weak and easily overcome. This is a huge theological no-no! All that Omnipotent stuff whisked out the door with your sinful little will.

What about those who only focus on irāda and toss out God’s amr? In this case, all actions, even creaturely ones, are assigned to the creative will of God. They claim to be compelled to act, powerless in the wake of God’s will. External commands, prohibitions, Holy Books, prophets, law, common sense, and so on are all considered valueless because these force one to make a choice. People who focus on irāda are not fond of the ‘personal choice’ concept. They tend to quote Quran ayah that focus on God saves whomever He wills and condemns who He wills and if He wanted, He could have made all humans believers. The theological problem with this argument is that God does not condemn or save all men randomly. God has permitted people to participate in the journey of their own salvation or condemnation through His amr, His external command. God’s commands are made more explicit via revelations to the prophets, Quran, sunna, etc and through it all man has the power to accept or reject freely.

Al-Maqdisi uses a metaphor to describe the relationship between man’s freedom and God’s creative will. Two men are carrying a heavy load, one man is able to carry it alone while the other is too weak to manage it by himself. Both men pick up the burden and help each other carry it, although the first is the one who has the power and expertise. The weak individual participates as a kind of partner because he is transporting the load. In the same way, God is the ultimate source of power for anything to emerge, He uses His amr  as a way of presenting man with orders and prohibitions that he can accept or reject using the willpower God grants him. This is how Al-Maqdisi sees man participating in the process of his own salvation.

PAUSE

Iblis could not navigate the paradox of God’s will versus his command. In fact, when the whole thing blew up in his face, Iblis subsequently flip-flopped between the two extremes. First, he claimed irada with the “You have led me astray. I was just doing Your will.” excuse, thereby excluding choice and personal freedom. Then, when he got punished he pushed the amr label with “I will lead them astray.”, an example of radical freedom because he ascribes his acts to himself alone. Iblis didn’t pay attention to the angels who were trying to navigate the straight path of irada and amr, he was the first to despair at the mercy of God, the first to deceive others, and the first to sin. Al-Maqdisi believes that if Iblis had been able to discern the true nature of Adam, he would not have rejected the amr of God. However, Al-Maqdisi does not equate Iblis’ behavior with Adam’s- when Adam saw he had done wrong, he ascribed guilt to himself and asked for forgiveness. This is the correct action for a servant in the presence of a divinity. Iblis never asked for forgiveness, he blamed God for being the cause of his sin, and he never accepts the blame himself.

Finally, Al-Maqdisi asserts that Iblis’ failure to obey God’s command is worse that his pride because it implies that Iblis understands perfectly God’s will. In fact, he doesn’t. God’s will goes beyond the understanding of mere creatures. When God wants to reveal His will, He does it, no more. Iblis’ refusal to bow springs from his aberrant faith in his own foreknowledge, and jealousy sparked by pride.

While the power of Iblis may be localized in man’s bloodstream, God’s power cannot be encompassed by the heavens or the earth- yet the paradox of God is that He can be right there with a human’s soul. If a person thinks on God for a moment, God will shower her with blessings, if she moves toward God the distance of a cubit, God will move a fathom; and if she comes to God walking, God will come to her running. 

“Because He is the absolute being in His sovereignty, neither is His doctrine changed in His presence, nor is His judgment contested against Him. His speech is truth; His promise, sincerity, whether He has promised redemption or threatened obliteration. To Him belongs the volition to menace, and to Him belongs the will to promise and to threaten. To Him belongs the power to punish without reason, and to be angry at the best of achievements. He, in everything, is just. To Him belong created beings and the command; in His hand is advantage and harm. He is not questioned about what He does, but they (the creatures) are questioned.”                   -‘Izz Ad-Din ‘Abd As-Salam Ibn Ahmad Ibn Ghanim Al-Maqdisi, Taflis Iblis (Cairo, 1860)

I’d like to end with a du’a from Quran 28:88, “There is no god but He! Everything is passing to destruction but His face. To Him is the judgment and to Him is your return.” Amen


Friday, March 24, 2017

Choice and the Chessboard

The title of my khutbah today is, “Choice and the Chessboard”. It is part 11 of the Iblis series.

In the last khutbah, we discussed Iblis’ spiritual blindness. Rumi calls him the “one eyed” because Iblis was unable to see the connection between God and human beings. If this were a court case, the Sufi scholar Al-Muhasibi, sums up the prosecution’s argument:

“Do you not consider Iblis? When he had learned Almighty God’s command and had testified to His divinity, he then stubbornly resisted His command after knowledge, proof, and testimony. And so Almighty God cursed him until the Day of Reckoning. He became the evil one among created beings. All hope of repentance for him was cut, forever.” –Al Muhasibi, Kitab ar-ri’aya

But to be fair, we have to consider Iblis’ defense of himself. Iblis says in the Qur’an,
“Because You (God) have led me astray, I will definitely waylay them along Your Straight Path.” Quran 7:16

Iblis claims that he is simply an instrument of God, used by God to test humans. Iblis says he is a powerless tool, subservient to God, and God controls everything, God is the source of movement, change, permanence, and no creature can resist temptation or has the strength to obey without the help of God. God orders his creature to do whatever He wills, in the same way He created them when He willed. Al-Ghazali tells a story of God creating two servants, one handsome and highly favored named Jibril, and the other ugly and hated named Iblis. Jibril is assigned the transmission of revelation, while Iblis is responsible for the seduction of mankind into evil. It’s like the king having assigned one servant the job of pouring wine into the cup, while the other servant is responsible for shoveling out the stables. The king gives the one he likes the cushier, cup-bearing job. Al-Ghazali’s moral is we are mistaken if we attribute acts to ourselves. God attributes the acts to individuals, be the action good or evil. As humans are of limited understanding, we cannot comprehend the power of God as manifested in His will (irada) and his command (amr).

This debate, the tension between God’s omnipotence and man’s free will, was a hot topic throughout the Islamic world for many centuries. A human being’s ability to act freely seemed pretty negligible next to God’s omnipotent will as shown through destiny. God will “…lead astray whomever He wills and he guides whomever He wills.” Quran 16:93. In the course of this debate, I will delve into some Islamic philosophical history.

The Mu’tazilites (circa 8th century) believed in human responsibility as an important aspect of God’s justice- they reasoned that justice requires people to be punished or rewarded for deeds performed as a result of a free moral choice. The Mu’tazilites also insisted that God is not Himself involved in the evil which He punishes people for doing. Evil is the side effect of man’s ability to choose.

 A more extreme sect of the Mu’tazilites were called the Qadarites. They went even further and demanded man’s absolute moral responsibility for his actions. They had an idea of radical freedom of will, kind of like Muslim Libertarians.  However, the Qadarite ideology never really caught on, perhaps because this kind of absolute accountability has a few traps. For example, if man through his own power determines his salvation, then this, in effect, makes man an associate of God in determining events. The event of one’s destiny, in this particular example. Putting man on the shelf with God is and was too shirk-like for the average Muslim.

By the middle of the ninth century, the Muslim intelligentsia preferred emphasizing God’s omnipotence over man’s free will. It is important to remember that there were at least two degrees of the predestination doctrine
1.   God determines the circumstances which a human is subjected to but not a person’s reactions to the given set of circumstances.
2. God determines both circumstances and the person’s reaction to the circumstances.

Most Muslim thinkers had no problem with the first doctrine, but the second one, God determines everything, was up for a lot more debate. Religious thinkers wanted to give some freedom to humans.

Al-Ash’ari and his school, were defenders of God’s absolute power and limitless freedom. He rejected all the Qadarite arguments, and even went so far was to reject causality because Al-Ash’ari didn’t like the idea that creation possesses an on-going order of its own. It should be noted that, from the historical perspective, Al-Ash’ari and his school were the 'winners' and the Mu’tazilite doctrines became unfashionable.

So how did Al-Ash’ari deal with the question of God’s involvement in humans’ sinful action? His argument sounds nearly like something we would call relativistic “post-modernism” or a nightcast of Fox News. Al-Ash’ari asserts that there is no intrinsic good or evil to actions. Something is good because God commands it, it is evil because God forbids it. For example, lying is evil because God says it is. If God someday declared that lying was good and ordered believers to lie, then humans would be expected to follow the order. By this train of thought, believing men and women learn what is good and evil by paying attention to God’s command, not by using reason to evaluate the intrinsic moral worth of a given action. This line of reasoning really troubled the Sufis. They used the Iblis story as a way to examine the effect of God’s omnipotence on spiritual life and the conflict this could bring about.

If we accept that God has complete control over the actions of man, then we soon need to accept that God’s actions cannot be understood by human laws of logic, consistency, or clarity. God’s involvement in actions which are unexpected, illogical, or baffling are known in the Islamic tradition as God’s makr, His wiliness.

“When Iblis was overwhelmed by the way he was, Gabriel and Michael, may peace be upon them!- shed tears of grief for a long time. God Most High asked them, “What is wrong with you that you shed all these tears?” They cried out in unison, “’O Lord, we are not safe from Your wiliness!”- Al-Qushayri, Ar-Risalat al-qushayriya.

God alone decides whether an action will lead the way to Him, or whether the same action will be an obstacle that bars the way to Him. Al-Hujwiri cites the example of Jesus. For some, Jesus was a guide to ma’rifa (gnosis), for others, he was a veil (in Kashf al-mahjub). But following this train of thought, Abd Allah Ansari had some pretty pointed questions for God. It is God who chose Adam to be one of the elect, and transformed Iblis into the rebellious sinner. Out of respect, like Adam, we ascribe sinful faults to ourselves, “…but, in truth, You instigated the crime.”- (from Munajat). The logical end to this question is ....was Iblis set up? Can Iblis be exonerated? Should we stop considering Iblis as the sly deceiver and instead look at him as the tragic victim in a carefully crafted shell game? The broader question is perhaps even more troubling- there may be little to no free will involved in the actions of human beings. Perhaps people are no more than pieces moving around a chessboard where the game has already been determined.

Rumi is the most outspoken critic of this fatalistic view of human destiny. He uses the Iblis story to confront these philosophical arguments head on.  From the Mathnawi:

“Learn from father Adam, O clear-browed fellow;
     Aforetime ‘O Lord,’ he said, and ‘we have sinned!’
He neither made excuse nor did he paint any lie,
     The flag of neither trickery nor pretense did he raise.
Contrary to this, Iblis raised his voice in debate:
     'I used to be red-cheeked with honor;
You have made me jaundiced.
     The color is Yours, You are my dyer;
You are the source of my crime, my misery, my scar!’
     Take care! Recite the verse: ‘O Lord, because You have led me astray!’
So you do not become a necessitarian, and weave cheap lies.
     For how long will you leap into the tree of compulsion,
And lay aside your free will,
     Embroiled in battle and controversy with God
Like that Iblis and his offspring?”

Rumi points out that people feel quite free when it becomes a question of choosing to follow their passions, particularly passions which have benefits in the near term and not so much the future, particularly, the afterlife.  21st century economists call this “hyperbolic discounting”.  As a result, people take pleasure in potentially harmful things because they enhance their lives at the moment more than what they judge to be their eventual costs or risks.

Rumi shows us the observable reality of human’s vacillating between two options. The conflict between our impulses, pulling us one way then the other, is indicative of choice. Our choices may not be infinite, they may be constrained by factors of time, place, ability, and information, but more to the point, one can choose to do wrong or not. We cannot blame others, Destiny, the government, or our own past actions, but we must be accountable to ourselves and accept the outcome. To plead “I was just following orders” or “everyone else is doing it”- the hallmarks of the banality of evil, implies there is no responsibility. And if there is no responsibility, then religious and moral imperatives do not exist. 

Even under a totalitarian regime, we can choose to do wrong or right. I’d like to illustrate this with two examples. During WW2, many governments that were invaded by the Nazis willingly cooperated with the invaders. They thought that by cooperating with the Third Reich they would be treated better. In Denmark, the people refused to go along with the Final Solution for their Jewish citizens. Of the 7800 Jews in Denmark, 7220 of them we able to escape to Sweden with the help of their non-Jewish friends. 99% were saved. In Albania even when the Nazis invaded, the Muslim Albanians protected Jews with their Besa, ancient hospitality rules which translate as "keeping a promise". Although there were only 200 Jews in Albania, by the end of the war there were over 2000 as news of Muslim protection spread.

Rumi wrote, “If in God’s opinion, both good and evil were of equal value in the test, then Iblis would possess the same countenance as the moon-faced Gabriel” (Kulliyat-i-Shams-I Tabrizi).

To conclude, if we fail to accept responsibility, if we fail to choose to do good, then we become robots following orders and seeking only our own comfort.  In this robot world, good and evil have no significance, we will no longer be human, and we will have no place of significance in the afterlife.


“O those who have believed! Be the ones who are staunch as witnesses in equity for God and let not that you detest a folk move you that you deal not justly. Be just. That is nearer to God consciousness. And be Godfearing of God. Truly God is Aware of what you do. And God has promised those who have believed and the ones who have acted in accord with morality that for them is forgiveness and a sublime compensation. And those who were ungrateful and denied Our signs, those will be the companions of Hellfire!” 5:8-10 

Ameen

Friday, March 3, 2017

BE HERE NOW: The Case for a Gender Equal Mosque



Surah Al Fatihah

At Tahiyyaatu lilaahi was Salawaatu wat tayibaatu
As Salaamu ‘alaika ayyuhan nabiyyu wa rahmatul laahi wa barakaatuh
As Salaamu ‘alainaa wa ‘alaa ‘ebaadillaahis saaliheen

Let me say this up front.  I have been planning for weeks to use the opportunity of giving this khutbah to present a case for building a gender equal mosque.  I started reading about the reform movement in Judaism, to use the Jews experience as an example of where I see the Muslim community moving in America.  In fact, there are many parallels between the Jewish reform movement and reformists’ vision of Islam.  This is from the website “ReformJudaism.org:”

Reform Judaism has asserted that a Judaism frozen in time cannot coexist effectively with those who live in modern times. The great contribution of Reform Judaism is that it has enabled the Jewish people to introduce innovation while preserving tradition, to embrace diversity while asserting commonality, to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt, and to bring faith to sacred texts without sacrificing critical scholarship.”

“We believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, and that we are God’s partners in improving the world. Tikkun olam — repairing the world — is a hallmark of Reform Judaism as we strive to bring peace, freedom, and justice to all people.”

“Reform Jews are committed to the principle of inclusion, not exclusion.  Reform Jews are committed to the absolute equality of women in all areas of Jewish life. We were the first movement to ordain women rabbis, invest women cantors, and elect women presidents of our synagogues.  Reform Jews are also committed to the full participation of gays and lesbians in synagogue life as well as society at large.”

The story of how Reform Judaism evolved from its 19th century origins in Europe is worth our attention, but I decided not to focus on that today, because several things happened while I was in Maryland last week that seemed more relevant to this theme, and more important to share. 

Surah 2:  Al-Baqarah
Wa qala-ladhina la ya ‘lamuna
And those who are devoid of knowledge say:
lawla yukallimunal-lahu ‘aw ta ‘tinaa Ayah. 
‘Why does God not speak to us, or show us a miraculous sign?’ 
Kadhalika qalal-ladhina min-qablihim-mithla qawlihim. 
Even thus, like unto what they say, spoke those who lived before their time: 
Tashabahat qulubuhum. 
Their hearts were all alike.
Qad bayyannal-‘Ayati liqawminy-yuqinun.  [118]
Indeed, We have made all the signs manifest unto people who recognize an inner truth.  [118]

God is omnipresent – with us, around us, sustaining us all the time.  And when we are open to listening, we can see and hear God’s signs.  Last week in Maryland, there were several times when I felt there were lessons I was meant to learn.

The first thing that happened was that I was invited to give a presentation on Islam to a group of congregants at my niece Jenny’s church - Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church in Frederick Maryland.  It was a Monday night, and she did not advertise the event until less than a week before.  She expected that about eight people would show up – members of a loyal bible study group.  In fact, there were more than 40 people in the room.  The first thing I did was pass around my grandmother’s wedding photo.  She was born, lived her entire life, and died in Frederick, which is where I was also born.  Then I told them about my journey to Islam, and opened the floor for questions.  This was the first time I have ever talked about being a Muslim to non-Muslims outside of the family in my native community.  It was a defining experience for me – confronting the ambiguities I have always felt about the way the course of my life has taken me away from my roots.  It went very well, Alhamdulillah.  I left feeling more balanced, and I believe they all left feeling affirmed in their hope that Islam is not the threat it is portrayed to be.  There is tremendous empowerment in sharing a true story – for both the teller and the audience. 

After that experience, and based on my mother’s story of attending a very cathartic interfaith meeting at the Western Maryland Islamic Center in Hagerstown, I decided that I would like to go to their Friday prayer service.  Their website said that Jumaa was at 12:15, so I went.  There were only a few cars and no one in sight at the entrance.  But I decided that since I was there anyway, I might as well pray Friday prayer and leave.  I put my boots on the rack at the entrance and went into the prayer hall.  There were a few men in the front of the large prayer space.  There was a space at the back of the hall separated by moveable screens.  But there was a substantial space in the middle of the screens that was open to the mihrab.  I decided I would not be compromising my integrity, and also not making anyone uncomfortable if I sat and prayed at the opening.  I did my prayer, and then sat meditating.  A few more men came in, and a few more, and then a woman came directly into the women’s space from a separate door on the opposite side of the mosque.  Whoops.  I realized I had come in the “wrong” door.  I asked the woman if there would be a Jumaa prayer and she said it was at 1:30.  I decided to stay.  By the time of Jumaa, both the men’s and the women’s prayer spaces were full.  The khutbah was given by a guest Imam who spoke about the need to reach out to the broader community, and the need for Muslims to be more tolerant and open to difference.  Well this is ironic, I thought – because unless I stay here until everyone else leaves - I am going to have to test their ability to be tolerant because I now have to leave through the men’s side and retrieve my boots from the men’s shoe rack.  What to do?  After the prayer, men immediately began to leave and congregate, filling the entry hall where my boots were waiting for me.  And the women filed out through the side entrance.  I finally summoned up my courage, apologies ready, walked out through the men’s entrance and went to get my boots.  No one said anything.  In fact, they were all so wrapped up in their conversations, they did not seem to even notice me.  Alhamdulillah.  What I was reminded of is that truly, the only thing we have to fear is distancing ourselves from God. 

Surah 24:  The Light
            Wa ‘adal-lahul-ladhina ‘amanu minkum wa amilus-salihati…
God has promised those of you who have attained to faith and do righteous deeds…
Layubaddilannahum-mim-ba’di khawfihim ‘amna.
God will cause their erstwhile state of fear to be replaced by a sense of security
Ya budunani la yushrikuna bi shay’a. 
Seeing that they worship me alone, not ascribing powers to aught beside Me.  [55 excerpts]

Pause

The last thing that happened in Maryland was at a family dinner the night before I left.  My nephew, the farmer, brought his wife, nine-year-old twin boys, and pizza to my Mom’s house, and we were joined by my brother (his father) and my sister-in-law.  While talking after dinner, with the kids in the next room, we found ourselves on the slippery slope of talking about the Trump administration.  Two things are important to know – first, that I love this nephew very much.  He is passionate about farming.  He has been successfully navigating the very difficult and complicated business of running a growing farming enterprise since graduating from agricultural college.  He married his high school sweetheart, and is raising two wonderful, challenging twin boys.  He has inherited the family gene for determination, which can also manifest as  stubbornness – which we were both displaying that night.  I suspected he may have voted for Trump, but when he started defending him using all the rhetoric of the Alt-Right media, I lost control of my normal “Aunt Judy” persona, and ended up sounding angry and aggressive before I could stop myself from going there.  My sister-in-law, much to my chagrin, went into the other room to distract the kids in case they might get scared by my tone.  The next morning Jeremiah sent me a looong text message about how he had felt defensive, and he was tired of having to defend himself as a white man against perceived accusations of racism while his white sons “will not have any chance of getting scholarships as white men.”  That was, above all else, why he supported Trump.  I have work to do to re-establish the closeness I have always felt with Jeremiah. 

I need to constantly remind myself that the most important thing in any journey is not the road I am taking, but how I conduct myself along the way, and that I cannot let my deeply felt convictions and loyalty to my own integrity blind me to the needs and sensitivities of others.  Everything will happen in its time for those who love God.

There is a lesson in that for me, as I stand for equal access for everyone to expression and leadership in our mosques.  Empowered women must not lead to the impression of disempowering men.  In fact, I think the fear of disempowering men is one of the major hurdles we face in our effort to get to a place of balance.  It is not in the interest of men or women for men to feel disempowered.  (And this isn’t only true in the Muslim community of course – look at all the women who voted for Donald Trump.)  The fact is, we need to respect and value our differences to be balanced within ourselves and with each other.  The powerful feminine and the powerful masculine are both essential for balance to be achieved – for healthy individual personalities and for healthy relationships. 

The ultimate punishment that we can experience is the feeling of separation from God – the sense of loneliness and despair that come from a life without any kind of faith.  We separate ourselves from God when we separate ourselves from each other.

Surah 3:  The House of Imran
Fastajaba lahum Rabbuhum
And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer:
‘anni laa udi’u amalu ‘amilim-minkum min-dhakarin aw untha b dukum mim-ba’d….
‘I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labours [in My way], be it man or woman:  each of you is an issue of the other….’ [195]

Finally, I want to share another realization I came to – this time as I was compiling an annotated bibliography on Islam and Muslims.  Several of Jenny’s congregants had asked for sources after my presentation last Monday.  I spent a lot of time on it, because I wanted to give them a variety, and also give them a sense of the diversity and struggles of the Muslim community in America today.  As I went through my sources – many of them read by many of you – Mohammed Asad, Jonathan Brown, Khalid Abou El Fadl, Reza Aslan, Fazlur Rehman, Laila Ahmed, Aminah Wadud, Ingrid Mattson, Ziauddin Sardar, Meraj Mohiuddin, etc., I realized something.  We are already in the middle of Islamic Reform.  It is being articulated all around us.  We may not have an iconic leader yet as Reform Muslims – someone like Charles Darwin was for evolutionary theory, or Adam Smith was for capitalist theory, or Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise for Reform Judaism in America.  But the raw material is all there for us.  We’ve read it.  We feel it.  We know it.  All we need to do is dispel our fears, follow our hearts, and never forget our sense of compassion.

Surah 13:  Thunder
            Qul innal-laha yudillu many-yashaa’u wa yahdil ilayhi man anab.
Say: ‘Behold, God lets go astray whoever wills to go astray, just as God guides all who turn to God [27]
            Alladhina amanu wa tatma’innu qulubuhum-bidhikril-lah.
            Ala bidhikril-lahi tatma innul-qulub.
Those who believe, and whose hearts find their rest in the remembrance of God – for truly, in the remembrance of God do hearts find their rest: [28]

Alladhina amanu wa amilus-salihati tuba lahum wa husna ma’ab. They who attain to faith and do righteous deeds are destined for happiness in this world, and the most beauteous of all goals in the life to come!’ [29]

Friday, February 17, 2017

Good and Blind

The title of my khutbah today is “Good and Blind“.  This is part 10 of my series on Iblis, the Muslim devil. I talk about the devil because I think the question of evil (What is it? Where does it come from? How can we avoid it?) is central to religious discussion.

The past khutbahs have been about the roots of the Iblis story from the traditions and stories found in hadith and tafsir (Quranic commentary). Today I will delve into Sufi literature which adds a new layer of subtlety and complexity to Iblis as the devil figure. The Sufis, Muslim mystics committed to improving their spiritual character and communing with God, are very concerned with evil because they need to purify their souls from evil and Satan’s influence.

From the tafsir and related tales, we know that Iblis is a corrupt spiritual teacher. Prior to his fall, Iblis was one of the most spiritually adept of the jinn and was afforded a place of honor near God in Heaven. For the Sufis, the idea of a corrupt spiritual teacher who would lead novices astray is a powerful reminder of betrayal along the spiritual path. This is coupled with the underlying insight that like seduces like. In other words, to use a popular Sufi metaphor, the hunter traps sparrows using decoy sparrows, not decoy crows! Hopefully, the novice will be able to see through the façade before it is too late.

Another popular motif in the Sufi literature was the devil would encourage the believer to do the lesser good. Now, Al-Muhasibi rejected this concept, it bothered him that the devil could get anyone to do good, and then the whole question of intention would get muddied up. But despite his objections, many Sufis were quick to run with this ‘performing the lesser good’. Two examples: in one, a group of people are performing dhikr. The devil tries to prevent them from their prayers, but to no avail. Then, a group of people show up outside the building and they start to fight among themselves. The people performing dhikr rush out to break up the fight. They stop the fight, but they also stopped their prayers. Score for the devil. In a second tale, a shaykh wants to chop down a tree that the local people have been worshipping. Iblis offers to make a donation to the Muslim community if the shaykh leaves the tree alone, and the shaykh agrees to this arrangement- wrong, worship one God should come before community coffers. The last popular cautionary tale is of the monk, Barsisa, who reluctantly agrees to help a sick girl and then ends up getting her pregnant. Cures the girl, but then breaks his vow of chastity, etc.

The bottom line for the Sufis is there is no guarantee that even the most spiritually adept will be able to navigate ambiguous situations. They might feel paralyzed to make choices when faced with these circumstances. However, in the end, one must make a choice and accept the consequences. The awareness of examining one’s subconscious motivations, trying to predict long range consequences of seemingly good actions, and never really being certain you are doing the most right thing, serve to give one a profound sense of humility. Nothing like the feeling of being on the brink of spiritual disaster to bring one down a few pegs!

Although Iblis is the master of suggestion and persuasion, there are some Sufi stories where Iblis himself actually does a good deed. Again, this is done so the believer is prevented from achieving a greater good. For example, there is a holy man who curses Iblis a thousand times every morning. One morning, he is woken up and pulled out of his house before it collapses. Iblis pulled him out, as he explains, so the man would not be a martyr. Probably the most famous example is from Rumi’s Mathnawi, where Iblis wakes up Mu’awiya so he can perform fajr. This is a long dialog where Mu’awiya questions Iblis’ motivation (whichi is basically that Mu’awiya will feel so guilty for having missed fajr that his laments will reach God), but in the course of this discussion, Iblis says that he is God’s tool. Iblis tests man and this test is required by God. Men fail because of their own choices, and Iblis is simply the scapegoat.

“How can I make a good man bad? I am not God.
I am one who invites, I am not their Creator.
Me, make what is good, obscene? I am not Lord!
I am but the mirror of the beautiful and the ugly”- Rumi, Mathnawi, Book 2, 2686-2687

Rumi does consider Iblis to be a force for evil, but at the same time, he sees a tragic paradox in the core of Iblis’ character. Iblis has a passionate love for God which contrasts with his cold, sadistic attitude for humans. From the Sufi world view, we have an Iblis who suggests (lesser) good deeds, can do good deeds, and says these good deed spring from his love and obedience to God.
From this view of Iblis’ character, there are a series of didactic Sufi stories which council the novice on what pitfalls to avoid along the spiritual path- using Iblis as the teacher. The theological shift in these stories is huge, because now Iblis is revealing his most potent strategies with the intention of moving the Sufi murid along his spiritual path. In these stories, it is even possible to substitute the name ‘Muhammad’ or a Sufi master for that of Iblis without doing any damage to the structure of the story! Some examples are of Iblis being questioned by saints in Al-Ghazali’s Ihya. They ask him “What is the best method of conquering man? His reply: violent rage and passion. Iblis also warns Moses about anger, Noah about greed and envy, and I’ll end here with Iblis’ warning to Jesus:

“The story is told of Jesus-may peace be upon him!- that he placed a stone beneath his head. It was as though when he elevated his head off the ground by that means he was able to rest. Iblis raised objections to him and said, “O son of Mary, do you not claim that you have renounced the world?” He replied, “Yes.” Iblis asked, “That thing you have put under your head, where does that come from?” Jesus, may peace be upon him!-threw the stone away and said, “Take that! Together with what I have abandoned, and anything else like it.” -Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Ihya, vol 3 book 2.

PAUSE

The Sufis have invested in an Iblis character who loves God, seeks spiritual perfection, is capable of doing good (the lesser good), but who unreservedly hates humanity. I would argue that the Iblis character hits close to home for many Sufis- the seeks who wishes to be close to God, who labors for spiritual perfection, and who hats the sins man is prone to doing. What is Iblis' fatal flaw that pushes him over the edge to eternal damnation? Why is Iblis such a hater? The Sufis looked for the answer in the Quran.

“After that We said to the angels: Prostrate before Adam! Then they prostrated but not Iblis. He would not be of the ones who prostrated. God said: What prevented you prostrating when I commanded you? Satan said: I am better than he. You have created me of fire and You have created him of clay. He said: So get down from this! It is not for you to increase in pride in it. Then go forth. Truly you are of the ones who are disgraced.” 7:11-13

For the Sufis, Iblis fatal flaw is his pride. Iblis’ pride makes him unable to see the true nature of new Adam. The Sufis referred to Iblis as “The One-Eyed”, and I’ll reference here from Rumi’s Mathnawi

“See in everyone’s face a wondrous moon.
When you have seen the beginning, see the end
So that you do not become like Iblis, one-eyed.
Half he sees, half not, like some defective.
He saw Adam’s clay, but his faith he saw not.
He saw this world in him, but his other-worldly eye he saw not.Mathnawi  Book 4, 1615-1617

Rumi uses many different metaphors to describe Adam’s zahir, the exterior which Iblis can assess, and Adam’s batin, the interior connection to God that Iblis cannot see. Some examples:

1)      “In an Adam who possessed neither like nor equal,
The eye of Iblis saw nothing but a clay figure.Mathnawi Book 3, 2759

2)      “Since Adam’s treasure was buried in a ruin,
His clay became a blindfold for the accursed one.
He kept looking at the clay with scornful contempt;
Adam’s spirit kept saying, ‘My clay is a barrier to you!’. Mathnawi Book 5, 3452-3453

3)      “Bowing to Adam is manifest proof of his superiority;
The husk continually bows to the kernel.” Mathnawi Book 6, 2077

There are more metaphors; Iblis as a cow, or a short-sighted Mr Magoo type person, and so on. Regardless of the imagery used, what is being conveyed is man’s hidden spirit which links humans to God in an intimate way never before permitted other creatures.

“Gaze upon that life-breath; do not see Adam,
That we might ravish your soul with grace.
Iblis possessed a gaze that separates;
He imagined that we are separated from God.”    -Rumi, Kuliyat-I Shams-I Tabrizi , #1576

The mystical relationship between man and God stems from God’s creative gift of His own spirit in Adam. Iblis cannot see the spirit, therefore, he rejects the relationship. Iblis’ intensive worship practice does not give him insight, he lacks divine grace. Not only Iblis’ pride of worship, Iblis’ faith in analogical reasoning, qiya, condemns him. Iblis says that he is superior to Adam because he is made of fire, and fire better than clay.”I am better than he!” Ana khayrun minhu!  Iblis’ intellectual self-reliance, his confidence in qiyas, is an offshoot of pride. But before we begin an assault on intellectuals and the use of reason, Rumi ads an important insertion between pride and intellectual blindness. Rumi says that narcissism, a side effect of pride, directs all one’s love towards oneself, thereby negating the possibility of reaching out towards God. Intellectual blindness is the consequence of Iblis’ inability to recognize what is beyond himself, primarily God’s love at work in the creation of Adam. Iblis is only able to see empty shells bereft of love.

“He possessed intellect, but since he possessed not the passionate yearning of faith,
he saw in Adam only a clay form.
Even if you possess the fine points of knowledge, O worthy fellow,
That will not open your two eyes to pierce the unseen.”     -Rumi, Mathnawi Book 6, 260-261.

Just to reiterate this point, the metaphor of “the one-eyed” is particularly apt. From a biological standpoint, each of our eyes sees objects from two slightly different perspectives. Most of the time we are unaware of this incongruity because our brain integrates the two images harmoniously to produce one image. When someone loses sight in one eye, not only does their peripheral vision field decrease, but they also have difficulty with spatial relations and their place in the environment because they can only see from one perspective. We need two perspectives to anchor ourselves safely in this world. Narcissism narrows our moral field and reduces us to one point of view, and this limiting perspective is dangerous to ourselves and to those around us.

In closing, we ask God to help us see His divine spirit in every human being, to keep us humble, and to make us mindful and grateful of the many blessing He has given us. Amen.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Laying the Foundations

The title of my khutbah today is “Laying the Foundations“.

As we come into December, the end of the year as well as my birthday, is approaching. At this time, I try to reflect upon the past year by evaluating last year’s resolutions, and compiling my moral inventory. These are not easy tasks, in large part because they are uncomfortable. It is not easy to admit that I have failed to complete tasks or not been able to measure up to particular goals that I had in mind. Harder even still to admit that the same bad habits I vowed to change, have in fact persisted despite my efforts. So why put oneself through this kind of year end reckoning? Well, it can be satisfying if, in fact, I was actually able to change or complete something that I set out to do 12 months ago. My New Year’s resolutions tend to be about concrete material goals or improving relationships with people. My moral inventory is about looking at my own strengths and weaknesses. It is not about putting myself down, it’s more like figuring out what is in the emotional pantry. What’s on the shelf, what do you need more of, what should be pitched out. Kindness, introspection, what about that hasty temper and tendency to worry? These evaluations require work, but I think it is worth it because I hope that the mental exercise will force me to be less complacent. I often feel that when I become complacent I lose the ability to actively engage with the opportunities around me. I become spiritually "asleep". I hope that by understanding myself a bit better, I will be more open to the possibility of spiritual awakening. I define a spiritual awakening as a change in perspective which allows me to see my problems from a different point of view which then leads to actions that solve these problems in a manner which is in keeping with Quranic values. As I get older, and in particular as I see my parents age, I realize that solutions that may have been good options when I was younger, are no longer viable.  I am reminded of the Quranic verses,

“He whom We bring into old age, We reverse him in creation. Have ye no sense?” 36:68 (Pickthall translation)

And

“God is He who created you from weakness, then ordained strength after weakness, the ordained weakness and old age after strength.” 30:54 (Pickthall translation)

Our world changes over time. Just as there is a divine plan in the process of creation (ex. bringing a human being to life), there is also a divine plan in the decay of that creation (old age). If God has the power to create us and the power to cause us to decay, then, the Quran reminds us, God also has the power to resurrect us.

Along with the goals and personality assessments, the third essential component to build a foundation for receiving spiritual awakenings is cultivating an attitude of receptivity. This begins with gratitude. Every surah in the Quran reminds us to be grateful to God (I think. If you can find one that doesn’t mention gratitude or praise for God, please let me know).  Humans directly benefit from God’s creativity. These are some examples from Surah 36, Ya Sin:

“Have they not seen how We have created for them of Our handiwork the cattle, so that they are their owners. And have subdued them unto them, so that some of them they have for riding, some for food? Benefits and (divers) drinks have they from them. Will they not then give thanks?” 36:70-72 Pickthall translation.

and 

“Doesn’t man comprehend that We have created him from a drop-and look! He finds himself with the power of reason and argument? And yet argues about Us and forgets his own creation, saying, Who can revive rotting bones to life?” 36:76-77 from Sandow Birk’s “American Qur’an”

(PAUSE)

The last elements of a receptive attitude involve humility and hope. I must acknowledge that God can make anything happen; there is always room for a miracle or two. And in the middle of this hope, I must cultivate some humility: just because I can’t do something, doesn’t mean someone else can’t, especially if that someone is God. What I consider "impossible" is defined by my limited knowledge and power. God does not have these limitations. One of God’s biggest instruments of change, the really big stick, is time. In response to “Who can revive rotting bones to life?” the Quran instructs us

“Say: He who first created them will bring them back to life, as He knows all about all creatures. Even from the green trees He has given you fire, and you kindle flame from it.” 36: 78-79 from Sandow Birk’s “American Qur’an”.

There are (at least) two ways to interpret the green trees reference here, one which relates to time. First of all, those of you who are not fire-starters need to know that if you try and burn a green tree, you will only get smoke. The traditional way to interpret this verse is, according to Ibn Kathir, there is an exception to this green tree rule- the Markh and ‘Afar trees in western Arabia will produce fire if you rub two green branches together.  Another way to think about this ayah with reference to time, is that as the green tree ages, it is the old wood which is capable of the biggest fire. This apparently dead wood has tremendous energy, although you wouldn’t think that just by looking at it. Even today, the oil and gas we use to kindle our combustion engines are the products of green trees which have been transformed over millions of years.  This ayah reminds us there is always the possibility for the unexpected- exceptions to the rule or changes wrought by age.

All stages of life and death on this world are signs of God’s tremendous creative power.

“O mankind! If ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then a from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, that We may make (it) clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dieth (young) and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life, so that, after knowledge, he knoweth naught. And thou seest the earth barren, but when We send down water thereon, it doth thrill and swell and put forth every lovely kind (of growth)” 22:5 Pickthall translation

As 2016 draws to a close, I urge you to use this time to build a foundation for spiritual awakening. Maybe you can dredge up that old New Year’s resolution list, or look at your diary, Facebook page, personal blog, or checkbook. Where were you at (mentally, emotionally, physically) at this time last year? Did you accomplish the things you set out to do? Perhaps you found some goal or problem was much more complicated that you initially thought and left it undone. Perhaps the problem you dreaded facing turned out to be the most rewarding experience you had all year. Maybe you learned to set a few boundaries. Set aside time to make your moral inventory- what is in your personality pantry? What are you satisfied with and what would you like to change?

Whatever your goals for the next year, I pray that God will grant you the spiritual awakenings to make decisions which are most pleasing to Him.

“Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like of them? Aye, that He is! For He is the All Wise Creator, but His Command, when He intendeth a thing, is only that He saith unto it: Be! And it is. Therefore glory be to Him in Whose hand is the dominion over all things! Unto Him you will be brought back.” 36:80-82. Amen


Friday, November 11, 2016

Names That You Have Named

The title of my khutbah today is “Names That You Have Named”. In full disclosure, I didn’t start writing this khutbah until after the election results. I didn’t know how much the election would affect me or my family. But on Tuesday night when we started watching the election results, I was uneasy. It was too close. I went to the Quran we keep on display and randomly flipped it open. It landed on Surah 12, Joseph, the part where Joseph is sent to prison for crimes he did not commit. I didn’t have the heart to read it.  We turned off the tv and went to bed, but that night I could not sleep. I tossed and turned, and my husband kept turning on his i-Pad to look at the latest vote count. Every time I woke up I said to myself, “We are screwed.” And at 6 am Wednesday morning, we learned that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States in January.

What could I tell my children? They were upset and I was upset. My husband rose to the occasion and took the calming tone. He reassured them telling them we must look for the silver lining, that no one can predict the future. He said that Hillary Clinton would have had a hard time in a Republican packed Congress. Trump will not spend his time arguing, he will get things done. Maybe Trump will pass a budget and support more science, because Newt Grinich is his advisor and Grinich always liked science. Maybe Trump won’t be able to do all the things he said he would do during his election speeches.Maybe it won't be so bad. 

I couldn’t maintain my husband’s high road standard. I told my children that maybe Trump would have a stroke before he was inaugurated. We have had presidents that died in office, were assassinated, were removed because of scandal. Anything could happen because in the end, everything is in God’s hands.

Everything is in God’s hands. This is what the ayat in Joseph remind us,

“…and I have followed the creed of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. It had not been for us that we ascribe partners with God at all. That is from the grace of God to us and to humanity, but most of humanity give not thanks. O my two prison companions! Are ones that are different masters better or God, the One, The Omniscient? Those whom you worship other than He are nothing but names that you have named- you and your fathers for which God has not sent forth any authority. The determination is from God alone. He has commanded that you worship none but Him alone. That is the truth-loving way of life, but most of humanity knows not.“ 12:38-40

I had prayed to God about this election. I had asked him for Hillary to win. I had asked him for as many people as possible to turn out for the vote and be heard. But my prayers were not answered. If I ask God for something and He does not give it to me, then I must accept it. I must accept that God’s plan is better for me, only I cannot see it. And believe me, I am having a hard time seeing this one.

My family and I are afraid for the future of this country, and we are not alone in this. There is nothing that can be done for this anxiety, except to reach out to friends and to reach out to God. As much as we would like to think that we can control our future by electing the right government or eating the right foods or investing in the right assets or getting the right amount of steps, or studying or or or, the truth is we don’t control the outcome. We can only control our effort, our own behavior, our own attitudes and the rest is up to God.

Joseph was put into prison by people scheming for his ruin. He stayed there many years, but along the way, he made a few friends. I’m sure while he was in prison he wondered whether he would ever get out. I’m sure he had some very dark days. But in the end, Joseph used the skills that God had given him (dream interpretation), and eventually he was not only freed from prison, but he was elevated to a high status because of his gifts and skill. The story of Joseph teaches us to persevere, to use our skills, to cling to God in times of uncertainty.

(PAUSE)


When my brother was three he was unable to control his body temperature when he got a cold. Eventually he outgrew this, but at the onset of the slightest sign of inflammation, my brother would slip out of consciousness and start having seizures. I have persistent memories of my mother holding my brother helplessly as his whole body convulsed and twitched. The partial solution was to put him in an ice cold bath in order to bring down his body temperature. But in those moments as I looked at my brother in my mother’s lap, I really thought he was going to die. In the face of this uncontrollable chaos, my father tried to instill in me the importance of doing SOMETHING. My job was emptying the ice cubes into the bathtub.  Even if what you do can’t directly help the situation at hand, perhaps you can find something to do that will help in some small way. As I got older, I learned that the ‘some small way’ might be the contribution to my peace of mind.

Fast forward from ten year old self to much older self 2016. I am totally stressed out about the USA elections. There is very little I can do about this situation. I am only one voter. What can I do for my poor country? I decide that I will get out the vote. Encourage as many people as I can to vote, because I truly believe that Republicans only do well when voter turn out is low. I manned a  phone bank, I went door to door in neighborhoods. I only called people who were registered Democrats, trying to get them vote for Hillary. For the most part, people were polite or curt. No one screamed at me. I wasn’t murdered by a serial killer when I knocked on doors. And more importantly, at the end of that day, I felt good.

However, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t enough. Yes, the Illinois electoral votes went to Hillary Clinton, but my efforts weren’t enough. Just like my filling up a bathtub with ice cubes wasn’t going to stop my brother from seizing as his body raged with fever. These days, I feel like I have let my children down. What kind of world have I created for them? I have failed to protect them. But this 'failure' is actually an illusion on my part. I want to protect my children, but I am not in control. Their protection is in God's hands. I think a lot about Jacob and how he felt when he let his sons take Joseph out hunting and they returned empty handed. They told their father that Joseph had been eaten by wolves, when in actual fact they had abandoned their brother in a dried up well.

“And they brought about his long shirt with false blood. He (Jacob) said: ‘Nay, your souls enticed you with a command. Having patience is graceful. And it is God Whose help is being sought against what you allege.” 12: 18

What I would like to leave you with today is a reminder- just as Jacob could not see the larger plan that God had for Joseph, so we cannot see the larger plan that God has for this country. Now is the time to be graceful, to have patience, to seek refuge in God. The people of this country have named Donald Trump the ‘winner’, but this is the name that people confer upon other people. How long will this name last? If we look at our history and at past presidents, we know that this name will not last, that it will change, that it will be subject to the rigors of time, history and interpretation. The only name, the only brand, that truly counts, is the one that God confers upon us.

I’d like to end with a du’a from 2:286, last ayah of Al Baqara: Our Lord! Do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake. Our Lord! Do not load on us a severe test as You did burden on those before us. Our Lord! Do not impose upon us that which we have not the strength to bear; and pardon us and forgive us and have mercy on us, You are our Defender, so help us against the ungrateful people. Ameen.