Friday, September 12, 2014

Free Will and 4140

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
Al-hamdu lillah, Ahmaduhu Wa Assta’eenuh, Wa Asstahdeenhi, Wa Asstaghfiruh, Wa oominu Bihi Jalla wa ‘Ala va Laa Akfuruh.  Praise be to Allah; I praise Him and I seek His assistance. I believe in Him, the Exhalted, and I will not disbelieve Him.

The title of my khutbah today is “Free Will and 4140

As I was plodding through my reading of the Quran at my typical desert tortoise pace, I was stopped in my tracks by this ayah:

“Lo! Those who distort Our revelations are not hid from Us. Is he who is hurled into the Fire better, or he who cometh secure on the Day of Resurrection? Do what ye will. Lo! He is Seer of what ye do.”

I guess what got my attention was the “Do what ye will.” There is no “I’m going to start smiting all you distorters of revelation from here on out!” or “Don’t distort My revelations!” it was more this resigned, “Look, do what you want, but I’m watching you. And, FYI, there are consequences to your bad behavior down the line.” I know there is a lot of academic debate of whether man has free-will or is everything determined beforehand, and that gets into some mighty fanciful discussion, but at least in this ayah, God says, “Do what ye will.” End of story.

Then I thought, well, why WOULDN’T God just stop all this misuse of his scripture. If He can do anything, why not stop this nonsense? And part of the reason may have to do with free will, and another thing I thought of was that perhaps sometimes people will eventually find the true meaning of a revelation, even though they may initially be misled by some unsavory characters. Eventually, you will find the truth out there.

Well, I thought all this was pretty interesting, seeing that there is no ‘command’ here per se, just a very strong suggestion, and I just glanced down at the ayah and it was  41:40. Something about that number 4140 clicked a very old memory of mine.

Many, many years ago I remember my brothers would tease each other. If one of them started acting very strange or was losing his temper, one of them would shout, ‘Oh oh! 4140! 4140! Better call a 4140!” This was referring to a California Penal Code about people who are acting out of control can be forcibly detained by a police officer. My brothers must have learned it from some tv detective show.  Just to check myself, I went on the internet and researched 4140, and as it turns out, 4140 is something different. The actual California Penal Code is 5150, an involuntary psychiatric hold, which can be initiated by a police officer.

Surah 51: ayah 50 says “And set not any other god along Allah, lo! I am a plain warner unto you from Him.” And I think you would have to do quite a bit of literary stretching to get that to have anything to do with involuntary psychiatric confinement. The Quran does not predict the California Penal Code and this serves as a little warning about going overboard on numerology.

However, there is still a little mystery here; the California Penal Code 4140 refers to someone possessing drug paraphernalia, specifically needles or syringes not for medical use.

This got me thinking along the metaphor of drugs and religion. Initially, revelations are sent down to help mankind, to make things a bit better in this life. The revelations are then incorporated into man- made institutions, religions. Some of these religions can do wonderful things for people, some can be downright toxic. And I thought about drug use. Human beings make drugs, called endorphins , inside our brains, but they are only released in very small amounts. You may have heard of a “runner’s high”, this happens because endorphins are released with long bouts of repetitive movement. In the last three months of pregnancy, women build up reserves of endorphins to help them cope with labor pains. Endorphins are a response to relieving pain. Pain is an important part of existence, it tells your body to get out of a bad situation. But in order to avoid you writhing in pain for hours on end, God created endorphins so that you would slowly get back to normal. It doesn’t hurt forever because you have endorphins to dial down the pain. Every plant or animal product that relieves our pain is actually mimicking something we can create in our own body, although sometimes with far more potency.

Drugs were initially discovered by man to promote health by alleviating pain, but some drugs can abused by people to where you have an addiction situation. Any of you who have ever dealt with friends or family members with a drug addiction problem know just how painful this process is. Most people don’t intentionally start out to be drug addicts, they are just seeking to alleviate some kind of pain, but after a while the body develops a tolerance, you have to use more and more drugs to get the same pain alleviation, and then things start to go downhill very quickly. Even if the addiction is recognized as an addiction, it becomes very hard to physically wean someone off the drug. 

It is important to bear in mind that we are more than some big-headed primates chasing after endorphin highs. Yes, we do have an animal nature that has helped us survive through the millennia and sometimes these old survival instincts can get ‘hijacked’  or re-routed by the pressures of civilization. But we also have tools, blessings really, that God has graced us with to make better choices. We have the gift of reason and logic, the ability to analyze our past actions and make predictions about future actions. We have the gift of empathy, the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and to see the world from their perspective. We have the gift of self-control, to discipline ourselves and understand that delayed gratification is sometimes the best strategy to get what we truly want. So whatever you a presented with, be it drugs, religious interpretations, high fructose corn syrup, or so on, not only do you have a choice , you have a big toolbox to help you. The sharpest tool you have is prayer, ask God to guide you to the best choice.


(Khutbah Part II)
Al-Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil ‘Alameen Wassalutu Wassalmu ‘Alakhairil Mursaleen; Muhammadin Al-Nabiyil  Ummiyee, wa ‘Ala alihi wa mahbihi Ajma’een.
Praise be to Allah, the lord of the universe; May the greeting and peace of Allah be upon the best Messenger, Muhammad, the unlettered Prophet; and upon His family and upon all of His companions.

Since its Friday, I’m going to make mention of Surah 18, Al-Kahf. It says in ayat  1-8:

Praise be to Allah Who hath revealed the Scripture unto His slave, and hath not placed therein any croe, nor (had) their fathers. Dreadful is the word that cometh out of their mouths. They speak naught but a lie.     Yet it may be, if they believe not in this statement, that thou wilt torment thy soul with grief ovokedness (but hath made it) straight, to give warning of stern punishment from Him, and to bring unto the believers who do good works the news that theirs will be a fair reward, wherein they will abide for ever. And to warn those who say: Allah hath chosen a son, whereof they have no knowledger their footsteps. Lo! We have placed all that is in the earth as an ornament thereof that we may try them: which of them is best in conduct. And lo! We shall make all that is therein a barren mound.”

In historical context, Muhammad was warning a Christian sect which believed Jesus was the literal son of God. Quran says, “They speak naught but a lie.”

In a broader context, this ayah is talking about people who have false beliefs. And Quran asks the reader, if you tell them, “You hold false beliefs”, and they refuse to take you seriously- how are you going to handle their denial? Are you going to “torment thy soul with grief” over their choice? What good are you doing yourself when you grieve this way?

What is interesting here is that Quran does not answer this question directly. How do you handle the denial of others?  All the Quran says is: “We have placed all that is in the earth as an ornament thereof that we may try them: which of them is best in conduct.” At the end of the day, all this beautiful, earthly stuff is going to be wiped out, erased, a “barren mound.”. On the last day, it is going to be you: your deeds, your conscience, your regrets.

So that is your khutbah homework for today: if someone refuses to believe your warnings, whether in religion, or drug addiction, or doing their homework, or ordering the plane tickets in a timely manner, how is their denial a test of your character.  How are you going to handle the disappointment of not reaching them? Are you going to torment your soul in grief? Are you going to be one of these “I told you so’s”? Are you going to give up, take a ‘we all fend for ourselves’ attitude? Are you going to try a different tactic to convince them? Are you going to try and understand why maintaining this lie is so important to their life? How do you think God wants you to cope with not getting your message through?

In English, this is from the Quran, it is Moses’ du’a to God after God commanded him to go talk to Pharaoh.
“My Lord! Expand my breast, and ease my task for me; and loose a knot from my tongue, that they may understand my saying.”

Rabbi-‘shrah li sadri wa yassir li amri wa-hlul’ uqdatan min lisani yafqahu qawli. (20:25-28) Amin.

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