Friday, September 12, 2014

Traveling Through Different Planes

A’uzu Billahi Min ash-Shaitain ir-Rajeem.
Bismillah ir-rahman ir-raheem.
Al Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil ‘Alameen.
Wasa’atu Wassalamu ‘Ala Muhammad wa ‘Ala Alihi was Sabhihi was Sallim
Ahmaduhu subhanahu wa Ta’ala wa ashkurhu wa Huwa Ahlul-Hamdi wath-thana.
I praise Him (Allah) the Exalted One and the High and I thank Him. It is He who deserves the praise and gratitude.
Ah-hamdu lillahi nahmaduhu wa nassta’eenuhu wa nasstaghfiruhu, wa natoobu ilayhi, wa na’oozu billahi min shurouri anfusina wa saiyaati a’maalina.
Praise be to Allah, we Praise Him and seek help from Him; we ask forgiveness from Him; we repent to Him, and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and from our own bad deeds.

The name of my khutbah today is “Traveling through different planes”.

I’d like to start with a reading from surah 84, The Sundering, 16-19:

Falaa ‘uqsimu bish-shafaq
Wal-layll wa ma wasaq
Wal-qamari ‘idhat-tasaq
Latarkabunna țabaqan ‘ann-țabaq.

The translation, here I’m using Pickthall, is:

“I swear by the afterglow of sunset,
And by the night and all that it enshroudeth,
And by the moon when she is at the full,
That ye shall journey on from plane to plane. “

While these ayat were meant to be considered in the context of the afterlife, when I read these lines I felt that even in this life we travel through many planes. Sometimes we are on top, sometimes we are on the bottom, sometimes we are surrounded by the familiar, sometimes everything is a big unknown.

 This journeying on from plane to plane really resonated with me this summer, and I have many current examples. For example, being in a familiar country with fluency in a language versus being a tourist and not understanding the people around you, the upperclassman who rules the school versus the fifth grader or the freshman, the boss versus the employee, in charge of the book club  discussion versus  being a reader. We all switch roles, but regardless of the role we play, we need to examine our own behavior. Are we acting in a way that is appropriate and just and in keeping with fairness, courtesy, and compassion? These qualities of fairness, courtesy, and compassion are given great importance in the Quran. These qualities affect our deeds. We know that in the afterlife, our deeds are recorded – in a book? In our consciousness?-and the deeds and the qualities we have cultivated to enact these deeds, play a central role in determining which planes we can inhabit in the next world.

Victor Frankl says, in “Man’s Search for Meaning”, “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”.  This is his reminder to keep on that path of fairness, courtesy, and compassion. Frankl was a physician at the peak of Viennese society, and then the Nazis invaded Austria and he lost everything, and he was sent to a work camp. There he saw the worst, and some of the best, human behavior that emerges from these extreme conditions. In the Quran, there are many verses which stress that those who hurt and persecute believing men and women will have to suffer burning in hell.

There is something about being cruel to people in this life that has tremendous consequences in the next life. In the Quran, there is a powerful description of a massacre carried out by a zealot.  This is referred to by commentators as the as Massacre of the Burning Ditch and is thought to occur in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula.  In Surah 85, The Great Constellations, ayat 1-8 it says:

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim
Was-samaa ‘l dhatil-buruj
Wal-Yamil maw’ud
Wa shahidin wa mashhud
Qutila ‘ashabul ‘ukhdud
‘Annari dhatil-waqud
‘ith hum ‘alayha qu’ud
Wa hum ‘ala ma yaf-‘aluna bilmu’minina shuhud.
Wa ma naqumu minhum ‘illaa ‘any-yu ‘minu fillahil-Azizul-Hamid.

Consider the sky full of constellations
And (then think about) the Promised Day
And of Him who witnesses (all)
And of that which is borne (to Him as) testimony,
Destroyed were the owners of the ditch
Of the fuel-fed fire,
When they sat by it
And were themselves the witnesses of what they did to the believers.
They (the victims) had naught against them save that they believed in Allah, the Mighty, the Owner of Praise.

Zealots have an agenda and no conscience. Agendas and dogmas are manmade. But that little voice that tells you when you are wrong, or that intuitive feeling that someone needs a hug, that comes from your conscience and that is a gift bestowed on you by God, your living connection with Him. It is our duty as Muslims to strengthen this connection to God, to strengthen our conscience. But the ayat in Surah 85 describe what happens when you remorselessly follow through on your agenda, silence your conscience, and your ideology and causes innocent people to suffer.

In Ayah 10 (same surah):

Innal-lathina fatanul-mu’ minina wa-mu’minati thumma lam yatubu falahum ‘adhabu jahannama wa lahum ‘adha-bul ḥariq.

Lo! they who persecute believing men and believing women and repent not, theirs verily will be the doom of hell, and theirs the doom of burning.

If you have no sense that what you have done could be wrong in your heart, if your manmade agenda has trumped your God-given conscience, then you are going to be in for a lot of burning and torment in the next life. But there is an alternative, it is found in the very next ayah:

Ayah 11
‘Inna-lathina ‘amanu wa ‘amiluṣ-ṣalihati lahum jannatun-tajri min-taḥtihal ‘anharu dhalikal-fawzul-kabir.

Lo! those who believe and do good works, theirs will be Gardens underneath which rivers flow. That is the Great Success.


Allahumma salli ‘ala Muhammadin wa ‘ala alee Muhammad kama sallaita ‘ala Ibrahim wa ‘ala alee Ibrahim.
O Allah! Send Your greeting upon Muhammad and the family of Muhammad in as much as You sent your greeting upon Ibrahim and the family of Ibrahim.
Al-hamdu lillahi rabbil ‘alameen was-salutu was-salamu ‘ala khairil mursaleen. Muhammadin al-nabiyil ummiyee, wa  ‘ala alihi wa sahbihi ajma’een.
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the universe. May the greeting and the peace be upon the best messenger, Muhammad, the unlettered prophet, and upon his family and upon all of his companions.

Prophet Muhammad went through many stages in his life: persecuted in Mecca, forced to live in extreme conditions, leader in Medina, mediate disputes, leading an army, trying to get people to live alongside one another peacfully. One of the biggest example he left us is his forgiveness. When he had the power to crush all his enemies in Mecca, he didn’t do that. He forgave them. No one was hurt or injured. At the end of his life, he ran through Medina begging people to forgive him in case he had somehow slighted or offended them. It wasn’t that he was trying to be the most popular or he cared what people thought of him per se, I don’t think you can be a prophet if you are trying to please others all the time. What he was concerned with was if he had been unnecessarily unkind to people.

It it great to get an apology if you have been wronged, but sometimes you don’t get that. Sometimes people are very unkind to you, and you have to somehow come to grips with that.  I saw this in Budapest, Hungary this summer. This was the first time I visited former Soviet block country. There were lots of things the Soviets did to the Hungarians, and things Hungarians did to each other which were pretty bad.

Now the Soviets are gone, there is nor communist state, but what is the compensation for people whose lives were ruined by the system? No much. You have to go on. How do you go on? What did the Hungarians do? Did they throw all the communists in jail? No, they had to forgive them. They had to build a new country with them. And if they felt sad, they had to turn that into something else, perhaps building a museum or telling a joke, or writing a poem. Sometimes you do not get your moment of revenge in this life. Sometimes you don’t get your apology. And as difficult as that may be, perhaps in the end, it is better for our soul. I don’t think it is healthy to swallow all yourt hurt and resentment, it needs to come out. But in needs to come out in a way that doesn’t hurt those around you, and that is one function of the arts, to release our anger in a healthy way, to communicate our feelings, and to build something that may be of benefit to others.

As we start the new academic year, think about the different planes you will be traveling through. Think about the record you will keep of your deeds, of how you will treat others. Are you acting with fairness, courtesy, and compassion? Think about how to do it the right way because this may be the only time you have to get it right. If you are in a position of power, use that power carefully. If you are in the position of a victim, don’t get caught up in those feelings of despair and revenge. If there is one thing this world teaches you, each day is different and anything can happen which will change your circumstances. Hang in there, have hope, and remember to act in a way which will result in your success in the next world. Be kind.

Closing Du’a is from 2:201. Our Lord! Grant us benevolence in this world and benevolence in the hereafter, and protect us from the punishment of the fire.

Rabbana atina fid-dunya hasanatan wa fil’ akhirati hasanatan waqina ‘azaban-nar. Ameen

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