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 title of my khutbah today is “Separation”.
As Muslims, we recite, aloud or in our heads, surah Al-Fatihah with every raka in every prayer that we make to God. When we say this prayer we don’t say, “to You alone I pray” or “Guide me to the path of the righteous”- the pronoun that is used is “we”. “To You we pray”, “to You we ask for guidance”. This pronoun is a reminder that “we”, as human beings- like it or not- we are all on this world in this experiment with human free will, together at this time. All of us. Surah Fatihah also doesn’t mention Muslims, or Christians, or monotheists or polytheists- it is vague. It is an interfaith moment. It is ‘we’, humans. When we are down on our luck, losing hope and need strength and guidance, we ask for help from the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, the Most High. These are just a few of the names we give God in our feeble attempt to define the divine. When we are suffering from spiritual thirst, it is to God that we cry out to for succor.
It would be nice if we could remember we are all in the same boat on this blue planet, but unfortunately, remembering is not one of humanity’s strong suits. We tend to get distracted easily, make mistakes, and forget our connections. This has been our story starting with Adam. The German theologian, Paul Tillich, believed that man’s original sin consists in our forgetting our connection to God and our life on this earth is a separation from God.
As Muslims, we believe that it It is our higher nature, our fitra, that seeks to re-establish this connection to the Creator of the Worlds, despite living in a world where we are easily distracted. It is in our prayers that we seek connection to the Most Merciful, and it is in the ritual prayer with other Muslims when we stand shoulder to shoulder, where we can remember our connection to one another.
Although we are all human beings and we share a connection, we are also completely unique. Even down to the microscopic level of the physical manifestation of our existence, our DNA code, we are unique. Our brain chemistry and how our brains are wired and information processed is unique. All this gives rise to a rich diversity of preferences and desires, which at times can seem quite puzzling. And although we all share that same spiritual thirst, each of us may choose to sate that thirst in different ways. Some may prefer a tall glass of chilled well water, others want apple juice, or Coke or Pepsi or a hot cup of tea, or a gin and tonic. Our personal preferences, the choices we make, and how we carry out our actions can also lead to separation. Getting too involved in the 'cola wars' leads to separation. But just ritual prayer reminds us of our common human existence, it also reminds us of the Day of Judgment when all of humankind will be arranged before God.
Surah The Sundering 74:1-14
“When the heaven is split asunder and attentive to her Lord in fear, and when the earth is spread out and hath cast out all that was in her, and is empty and attentive to her Lord in Fear! Thou, verily, O man, art working toward thy Lord a work which thou wilt meet (in His presence). Then whoso is given his account in his right hand, he truly will receive an easy reckoning and will return unto his folk in joy. But whoso is given his account behind his back, he surely will invoke destruction and be thrown to scorching fire. He verily lived joyous with his folk, he verily deemed that he would never return (unto Allah).” (Pickthall translation)
On this day, God will judge us and He will separate us based on our actions and how well we remembered our connections to Him and to one another. In this final separation, we will be rewarded or punished. The last lines of Surah Fatiha serve as a reminder of the defining features of bad choices,
“Ghayril maghdubi ‘alayhim wa lad-daalin”
“(Make us ) Not of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray”.
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.
Innal-la ha was malaaikatahu yussalloona Alan-nabiy. Yaa aiyuhal latheena aamanoo, salloo alaihi, wa sallimoo tassleema.
Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings on the prophet. O you who believe! Ask blessing on him and salute him with a worthy greeting.
In all communities there are differences of opinion and belief. Although the Prophet Muhammad’s community is often held as an exemplar for all communities, they too, had their own problems. In reading through Surah Tauba, there are many historical references where the Medina community failed to meet the expectations of the Prophet. This surah is the only one that does not begin with “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem”, and there is a lot of harsh pronouncements in it. For example 9: 97-99:
“The wandering Arabs are more hard in disbelief and hypocrisy, and more likely to be ignorant of the limits which Allah hath revealed unto His messenger. And Allah is Knower, Wise. And of the wandering Arabs there is he who taketh that which he expendeth (for the cause of Allah) as a loss, and awaiteth (evil) turns of fortune for you. The evil turn of fortune will be theirs. Allah is Hearer, Knower. And of the wandering Abarbs there is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day, and taketh that which he expendeth and also the paryers of the messenger as acceptable offerings in the sight of Allah. Lo! verily it is an acceptable offering for them. Allah will bring them into His mercy, Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (Pickthall translation)
Clearly, even in this “best of communities”, there were problems. While there are some that look back on the Prophet’s community as some kind of utopia, I don’t get that feeling in reading Surah Tauba. There was a lot of intrigue, hypocrisy, and jostling for rank and privilege. In this respect, not much has changed since the time of the Prophet!
In surah Tauba, there are many references to a historical incident that I found particularly interesting. This centers around the Tabuk expedition, in which the Prophet asked his community to follow him to the northern most border of the Muslim territory to defend themselves against the Romans.
Muhammad Asad writes in his note 142 of his translation of Surah Tauba:
“Ever since his exodus from Mecca to Medina the Prophet was violently opposed by one Abu Amir (‘the Monk”) a prominent member of the Khazraj tribe, who had embraced Christianity many years earlier and enjoyed a considerable reputation among his compatriots and among the Christians of Syria. From the very outset he allied himself with the Prophet’s enemies, the Meccan Quraysh, and took part on their side in the battle of Uhud. Shortly thereafter he migrated to Syria and did all that he could to induce the Emperor of Byzantium, Heraclius, to invade Medina and crush the Muslim community once and for all. In Medina itself, Abu Amir had some secret followers among the members of his tribe, with whom he remained in constant correspondence. In the year 9 H, he informed them that Heraclius had agreed to send out an army against Medina, and that large-scale preparations were being made to this effect (which was apparently the reason for the Prophet's preventive expedition to Tabuk). In order that his followers should have a rallying place in the event of the expected invasion of Medina, Abu Amir suggested to his friends that they should build a mosque of their own in the village of Quba, in the immediate vicinity of Medina (which they did). And thus obviate the necessity of congregating in the mosque which the Prophet himself had built in the same village at the time of his arrival in Medina . It is this ‘rival’ mosque to which the verse refers:
“Only a house of worship founded, from the very first day, upon God-consciousness is worthy of setting thy foot therein (a house of worship) wherein there are men desirous of growing in purity; for God loves all who purify themselves.” 9:108
This rival mosque was demolished at the Prophet’s orders immediately after his return from the Tabuk expedition. Abu Amir himself died in Syria shortly afterwards.” (more commentary from Tabari and Ibn Kathir on this verse)
So, here you have a situation where people are being asked to go out and fight, and some of them don’t want to do it- for good reasons and for not so good reasons. People are making excuses right and left on why they can’t go. There are mosques being built as meeting points in a conspiracy. But, you might say, in the end, the Tabuk expedition was a wash. The Romans never showed up, no one had to actually fight. So in a way, this seems like a moot point. Why are you getting so upset when we didn’t have to fight anyhow? Well, God actually got irritated at Prophet Mohammad because the prophet excused people from going on the expedition. God was using the battle, or just the concept of battle, to separate the hypocrites from the believers. By being too easy on them, the Prophet now had a much more difficult time distinguishing the hypocrites from the believers.
I guess what this reminds me is that while we are all one community, our intentions, desires, and actions make us distinct, separate. While this separation can be painful because most of us do not like to fight, the separation leaves you the truth. You know where you stand, and they know where they stand. And on the Day of Judgment, that’s where we all will be; standing with the history of our choices.
My closing Du’a is from 2:286. 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.
Rabbana la tu’akhizna in-nasina aw akh-ta’na. Rabbana wa la tahmil ‘alayna isran kama hamaltahu ‘ala-llatheena min qablina. Rabbana wa la tuhammilna ma la taqata lana bih, wa- ‘fu ‘anna wa ‘ghfirlana warhamna anta Maulana fansurna ‘alal-ghawmil kafirin. Ameen.