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 lillahil-lathi anzala ala ‘abdihil-kitaba wa lam yaj’al lahu ‘iwaja. Praise be to the One Who revealed the book to His servant and did not make any distortion to it.
Wa ash-hadu an la ilah illal lahu, wahdahu la sharika lahu, wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu was Rasooluhu al-Mustafa. I bear witness that there is no deity except Allah, the One Who has no partner. And I bear witness that Muhammad is the servant of Allah and His messenger who was chosen by Allah.
The Title of my Khutbah today is “Privilege”.
The Surah Al-Qalam, #68 “The Pen” , is one of the earliest revealed surahs by the authorities of the Islamic tradition. In these ayahs, there is a description of people who hold a great deal of prestige in society. The Quran says:
Is it because he is possessed of worldly goods and children that whenever Our messages are conveyed to him, such a one says, “Fables of ancient times.”? (for this) We shall brand him on the nose.”
‘An-kana dha malinw-wa anin. ‘Idha tutla ‘alayhi ‘Ayatuna qala ‘asatirul-awwalin. Sanasimuhu ‘alal-khurtum. (68:14-16)
These people are then compared to the story of the people whose harvest is destroyed, a story that will be further elaborated in a later Surah, 18 the Cave, Al-Kahf. Now, branding on the nose seems rather harsh, and most scholars consider this a metaphorical statement, but these ayat are concerned with about people who have a great deal of privilege in their society. Muhammad Asad comments that describing someone has having “many children”, is another way of saying someone with many followers or adherents. And sometimes these people who are wealthy, surrounded by friends, family, fans- the popular ones, these are the people who are most blinded to their own privilege and the toll exacted on society by their privilege. Their privileged position renders them unable to see what is under their nose; namely the suffering of those less fortunate than themselves. And just so you don’t think I’m going off on some socialist tangent here, I have some proof in ayat 21-25:
Now when they rose at early morn, they called unto one another. ‘Go early to your tilth if you want to harvest the fruit.” Thus they launched forth, whispering unto one another, “Indeed no needy person shall enter it today and come upon you unawares-and early they went, strongly bent on their purpose.”
This early harvest plot would be in direct violation of social conventions of the time, whereby poor people were allowed to come in and take some of the food from their more prosperous neighbors. So, these privileged farmers are only looking out for themselves and never consider the bigger picture. They don’t invoke the name of God, doing so might have reminded them to consider the big picture. How is God going to judge my actions? Instead, these farmers are only asking themselves “What is helping other people going to cost ME” – they are forgetting the ethical question that alas, is not branding them on the nose. This branding question is, “What kind of society am I creating when I indulge in selfish behavior?”
How does God choose to help these blind, privileged people? He helps them by destroying everything they have worked so hard to grow. He leaves them with nothing. In fact, when they arrive at their fields, there is such complete destruction that they don’t even recognize the place:
“But as soon as they beheld it, the exclaimed ‘Surely we have lost our way!’’ and then ‘Naby, but we have been rendered destitute.” 68: 26-27.
When they have been reduced to this vulnerable position, when they finally see that everything they “own” or “build” or “create” is only there because of God’s grace, their hearts start to soften. When they realize that anyone can get hit with adversity at any time, that being poor is not some fault in moral character or laziness, or what-have-you, when they finally get into their head the notion of “But for the grace of God, there go I”, and learn to have some compassion, then and only then can they start to surrender to God.
Al-Hamdu lillahi Rabbil ‘Alameen wassalutu wassalamu ‘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 of Allah be upon the best messenger, Muhammad, the unlettered Prophet; and upon His family and upon all of his companions.
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.
It is easy to push off these “privileged” people onto someone “out there” in the community. This makes it easier to hate on them or shun them, but what happens when you have a person like this within your own family? What happens when you have a person who you really love and respect, as close to you as a father, but every time you try and tell him to open his eyes, recognize this privilege and change his ways, he essentially gives you the brush off? For any of you who have had to deal with this, this is a really tough situation. And guess what, you are in good company, because our Prophet Muhammad had to go through this exact situation with his beloved caretaker and uncle, Abu Talib. Abu Talib protected the Prophet from detractors in Mecca until his death. But, Abu Talib never became a Muslim. He never surrendered to God in the way that Muhammad wanted him to surrender.
Many a commenter will gleefully explain to you that Abu Talib had a sad end to his story, perched forever in the flames of hell. I don’t like that explanation, I think it is presumptuous. No one knows, not even the Prophet himself, who God will choose to forgive, and so to all those commenters who seem so knowing of all things fire bound I say to them, “Show me your Hell-cam footage! Otherwise, be quiet! Who are you to say you know the will of God? And I don’t care how many ‘authentic hadith ‘’ you trot out to ‘prove’ your point. You don’t know. And if you do know, would you be willing to bet your soul on it?” I didn’t think so.
Instead, what I want you to reflect on with the Abu Talib story is that first off, it exists in our tradition, which says something pretty great about our tradition. Despite all these reports you hear of the Quran making people cry when it was recited or how charismatic the Prophet was, the fact of the matter was he couldn’t get his adoptive father to join his cause. Sometimes you can’t convince people, even the people you love. However, Abu Talib supported the Prophet to the end. This means that whatever the Prophet said to him, it must have always been done in a loving, non-confrontational kind of way. Because if the Prophet had been a prostelytizing, self-righteous jerk, then Abu Talib would have abandoned him and no one in Mecca would have given it a second thought.
Not every person we love is going to agree with us. If they do agree, it is only by the grace of God. Our words and example may help, but in the end, it is God who decides, it is God alone who touches their hearts, and that is something we have to accept. We must surrender to God’s wisdom in all things, even if it doesn’t look wise to us at the time. Furthermore, even though we can disagree with people about something very important, important to the both of us, in the end, we must respect the love that God has placed between us. We can agree to disagree with those we love, but we should never let our disagreements hurl us into the fire of contempt and unkindness.
My closing du’a is from Surah 7, ayat 155-156. After Moses found his people worshipping a golden calf he reprimanded them. Then he gathered seventy men from his community and together they climbed Mount Sinai together to beg forgiveness from God. I suspect that these 70 men compromised the most privileged and respected members of the Bani Isra-ill. This is part of Moses prayer: “Thou art our Guardian. Therefore, forgive us and have mercy on us, and Thou art the Best of the forgivers. And ordain for us good in this world’s life and in the hereafter, for surely we turn to Thee.
“Anta wailyyuna faghfir lana warhamna wa anta khayrul ghafirin. Waktub lana fi hadhihid-dunya hasanatan wa fil-akhirati inna hudna ilay-ka.” Amen