Friday, November 28, 2014

Giving Thanks.

This week I was invited to a multi faith thanksgiving celebration at our local church. The pastor there began by singing what I would call a highly devotional piece known as “It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, please won't you be neighbor etc” reminiscent of our our dear Brother Imam Mr Rogers. I say this because our tradition tells us to value our families. If we do not value blood, how will we ever value othes? In Surah Baqara Ayah it says in ayah 27 not to sever the bonds that Allah has commanded to be tied? There is a hadeeth that says do not go three days without speaking to a relative and if you go one year, it is like taking a life. So how far out does that extend? To our immediate family, extended? To the family of humanity?

This is Thanksgiving week, a time when we traditionally gather with family, sometimes in a room with people we have not seen or wanted to see for a while. Perhaps we are part of blended families, divorced families and so on. There are jokes about how we have to brace ourselves for this type of events etc.

Many families have the tradition of going around the dinner table and asking what we are thankful for. Even though my children cringe audibly, I continue this ritual to this day. Sometimes it is hard to find things to be thankful for. Sometimes we have had very difficult years. We are reminded to look at those worse off than us and so we listen out for the voices of Gaza, Pakistan,Syria, Ferguson and so on. How do we make sense of any of this. How can we thankful when there is so much suffering and tragedy in the world? One of my children responded that they were thankful they did not have to live the life of an African American teen in the Southern states. I had no response to this.

There will always be unanswered questions. The Quran begins with أ ل م
letters whose significance we don't know. So that means that we must immediately and consistently submit to the fact that there are things we will never understand. However, I think more is required of us. We ARE the priveleged ones. We are thankfully not being tortured. We are in a land where we ARE being accepted despite everything. We are fortunate. We have access to the media, to being civically engaged, to being vocal. We can alert people to causes and so on.

(There is a Turkish vase on the table)

Islamic art is known for its patterns and symmetry. I believe this is mirrored in the teachings of Islam too. For instance, here are two hadeeth:

Whoever suffers an injury done to him and forgives (the person responsible), Allah will raise his status to a higher degree and remove one of his sins.' (Sunan At-Tirmidhî)

The Prophet said: 'Whoever does not thank people (for their favors) has not thanked Allah (properly), Mighty and Glorious is He!' (Musnad Ahmad, Sunan At-Tirmidhî)

What happens to you on Earth will be mirrored in the hereafter. How you treat people is how Allah will treat you.Now this gratitude thing. We are taught that the word shukr in Arabic highly important. It is considered a highly spiritual state in Sufi traditions. What does gratitude involve ? Well it includes recognizing our blessings, naturally. What about when we have been wronged, what then? We are taught to forgive, that it will set us free, that it is better for our souls and so on. I believe this. But if it were only all that simple.

We know the stories of the Prophet where he was able to forgive people who wished him harm, the woman who threw garbage in front of him. The woman he helped carry her belongings and who criticized him all the way and never told her who he was and so on. Ultimately, the very person who killed his beloved Uncle Hamza.

I think the Seerah stories we hear often portray our Prophet as somoene who just went around forgiving people because he had some super human forgiveness powers. Well maybe he did. But we are taught that he was human too. Which one was it? We have to remember the Prophet was also the strongest, savviest military leader anyone had known. Think more powerful than Kevin Costner in Braveheart, or Gengis Khan huffing and puffing around with Mongols. How does a person who can be such an aggressive warrior find it in himself to forgive such offences?

I think there are a few things that go on in the pardoning process. Recently I read an article about somoene who was being put in a position where they had to constantly interact with a verbal abuser. They asked the Rabbi what they should do about this. I wondered what advice I would give such a person.

First of all, yes we have the right to protect ourselves if required. But if we avoid the person who has harmed us, we have given our power to them. Therefore it takes that warrior's soul to actually forgive someone. To be be able to be soft and tender, we need to make our insides strong. That symmetry again. Also in war, you look at the big picture. If you look at how war works, it is 90% strategy. At the Battle of Uhud, the Muslims were told to be on high ground to be able to have a more effective vantage point. It is all about wider outcome and long term vision.

Therefore, I am sure that the Prophet was not unaffected by things that happened to him, I think it was that he had that sense of strong self worth of course, was far above pettiness etc, knew that nothing that others said defined him, knew that Allah was with him that was all that mattered.

Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.” (Quran 7:199)

But he also knew that he had to look at a broader spectrum. By not being able to overlook others' faults, he would not have been able to achieve a fraction of what he did. The killing of his uncle did affect him and he was unable to speak to Hind who carried this out. As an aside,  that inner struggle of his makes me feel even closer to him and makes me understand what is really humanly possible. We always have to be looking at a wider perspective. This vase contains symmetry and intricacy within its designs but the artist's overarching goal was probably to create a stunning piece of art.

Rabbi ‘j’alni muqima’s-salati wa min thurriyati. Rabbana wa taqabbal du’a.Rabbana ‘ghfirli wa li walidayya walil-Mu’minina yawma yaqumul-Hisab.
My Lord! Make me keep up prayer, and my off-spring too. Our Lord! Accept the prayer.  Our Lord!Forgive me and my parents and the ones who believe on the day that the reckoning will be taken.



  1. I am thankful for being able to read your khutbah!

  2. Me too! And to have heard it in person as well!