Friday, November 7, 2014

You're Invited

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

Wa ash-hadu an la ilaha Illal lahu, wahdahu la sharika lahu, wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadin ‘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.

Al-Hamdu Lillahli-lathi Anzala Ala ‘abdihil kitaba wa lam yaj’al lahu ‘iwaja.

Praise be to the One (Allah) Who revealed the book to His servant and did not make any distortion to it.

The title of my khutbah is “You’re invited.”

A few weeks ago, I was on the internet reading some of my favorite blogs and one person had suggested that everyone try to write one ‘devotional’ poem every day for a week. So after writing for six days about autumn leaves and pumpkins and the coming of winter, I decided I hadn’t really written a proper ‘devotional’ poem. What in my religious tradition was I ‘devoted’ to?  It only took me a few seconds before I had the answer, and then a few more minutes before I got the poem. See if you can guess what it is from my poem:

The best magic is mind-reading
For this amazing feat, I require two things:
One- a pen with which I will write
Two- my reader who will decipher my words.
There you have it ladies and gentlemen!
The ability to read minds of all persons
Living or dead
As long as they
The pen.

This poem is really a homage to the first words that were ever revealed to our Prophet, as recorded in 96: 1-5:
Iqra bismi Rabbikal-lathi khalaq. Khalaqal ‘insana min ‘alaq. Iqra’ wa Rbbukal- ‘Akram. ‘Allathi ‘allama bilqalam. ‘Allaml-‘insana ma lam ya’lam.

“Read in the name of thy Sustainer,  who has created man out of  a germ cell. Read for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught (man) the use of the pen, taught man what he did not know.”

Now, given that the Prophet was illiterate, was the first word “read”? Some people translate the word as “Recite”, but the problem with ‘recite’ is that you can recite something without understanding what it is you are saying. A parrot can recite. The reason people use the word ‘read’ is because reading has the intentionality of trying to understand that which you have been given to read. The reader is trying to make a mental connection to the author.

God has given human beings the remarkable capacity to understand the minds of other human beings through reading .We can read books (if we can translate their languages into our own), of people who lived thousands of years ago, like Sappho or Plato or Buddha or Lao-Tze. Humans can construct vast networks of knowledge and information and pass these on to future generations. If I want to know whether Rumi missed his friend, or what Charles Dickens was concerned about, or what Sigmund Freud dreamed about or how Emily Dickenson felt about that spider on her wall, all I have to do is pick up one of their books and start reading. This is an amazing gift. The ability to produce and transmit our ideas to other humans has led to amazing advances in technology and science.

Now in the case of the Qur’an, we have a very special author. Although the Qur’an is just one of His books, His creation is not limited to books, His creation of all elements of the natural world surround and sustain us. The Qur’an says of God’s authorship:

18:109 "Say: if all the sea were ink for my Sustainer’s words, the sea would indeed be exhausted ere my Sustainer’s words are exhausted! And (thus it would be) if We were to add to it sea upon sea."

As well as
31:27 "And if all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea (were ink) with seven (more) seas yet added to it, the words of God would not be exhausted: for verily God is almighty, wise."

When I think about the symbols of different religions, I look at them as invitations to contemplation as well as types of action. In Hinduism there is the symbol of the dancing Shiva-it is hard to be complacent and self-satisfied when someone asks you to dance. In Christianity, there is the symbol of the Cross- self sacrifice and redemption in service to others. In Islam, I think that our symbol is the invitation, “Read!”

When I look around this room and I see you, I know that all of you read, some of you are even in book clubs, some of you are book sellers and writers. I know that you have helped your children learn how to read, and you have modeled reading behavior to your children by reading to them. You have all been faithfully practicing your Islam, so praise God for that blessing, for these opportunities that you have been given.


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.

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.

Ash-Shifa bint Abdullah, may God be pleased with her, was one of the Companions of the Prophet and a frequent guest in his home. Her real name was Layla, she converted in Mecca, and later migrated to Medina. Ash-Shifa refers to her ability to heal others. Umar ibn Al-Khattab appointed her administrative officer of the marketplace. She was also his advisor before she died.

Perhaps the most important contribution Ash-Shifa bint Abdullah made to Islam is she taught the Prophet’s wife, Hafsa, how to read and write. Ash-Shifa was well versed in traditional healing, ‘rquyal al-namlah’. She asked the Prophet whether it would be permissible to use this method of healing, and he responded by telling her :“Teach Hafsa the ruqyal al-namlah like you taught her how to write.” (Dawud, Book 28, 3878)

Why is this important? Because Hafsah collected all the ayat of Quran, written down on scraps of paper or animal skins. Ruqayya Khan has called Hafsa the first editor of the Quran.

 There is a hadith that Umar ibn al-Khattab consulted Hafsa when there were disputes about the Quran:

Abu l-Aad related [that] ‘Urwa b. al-Zūbayr said, “People differed over the recitation of ‘Those who disbelieve from among the People of Book . . . ’[Q 98: 1], so ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb came to Hafṣa, [bringing] with [him a scrap of] leather (adīm). He said: When the Messenger of God comes to you, ask him to teach you ‘Those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book’ . . . and tell him to write it for you on this [scrap of] leather. She did [this], and he [i.e., Muḥammad] wrote it for her. This reading became public and widespread [’āmma].sw

In one Islamic tradition, when Caliph Uthman wanted to compile all the surahs of the Quran into one book, or mushaf, he asked Hafsa for her collection of Quranic ‘sheets’. She only agreed to hand  over her documents to him if he promised to give them back. He agreed to her conditions. After her death, Hafsa’s Quranic sheets were destroyed by the governor of Medina, Marwan ibn Hakam.

I would like to conclude with the words of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father and first president of Pakistan, who said, “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world: one is the sword and the other is the pen.  There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”  (speech given 25 March 1940, Islamia College for Women).

I would like to add that if you are a woman in command of a pen, then you are one of the most powerful forces in the world. Use your power wisely!

My concluding du’a is from 3:191-194:

"O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created (aught of) this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe then, from suffering through fire. O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily wilt Thou have bought to disgrace, and such evildoers will have none to succor them. O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice inviting us unto faith ‘Believe in your Sustainer’- and so we came to believe. O our Sustainer! Forgive us, then, our sins, and efface our bad deeds, and let us die the death of the truly virtuous. And O our Sustainer, grant us that which Thou has promised us through Thy apostles, and disgrace us not of the Resurrection Day. Thou never failest to fulfill Thy promise."

Rabbana ma khalaqta hadha batilan, subhanaka faqina ‘adhaban-nar. Rabbana innaka man tudkhilin-nara faqad ‘akhqaytahah. Wa ma liz-zalimina min ‘ansar.
Rabbana innana sami’na munadiyany- yunadi lil imani ‘an ‘aminu bi-Rabbikum fa’amanna. Rabbana faghfir lanan dhunubana wa kaffir ‘annna sayyi’atina wa tawaffana ma’al-abrar. Rabbana wa atina ma wa’attana ‘ala Russulika wa la tukhzina yaum-al-qiyamah. Innaka la tukhlifu-l-mi’ad.

Quran translation = Muhammad Asad “The Message of the Qur’an”.

“Did a Woman Edit the Qur’an: Hafsa’s famed Codex” by Ruqayyah Khan, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Feb 2014

1 comment:

  1. Great Khutbah, beautifully written and straight to the point. Thanks for encouraging all of us to write. I like the symbol you chose of our faith Read. May be we can also add the Pen as another symbol. Sura # 68 was named Al Qalam ( the pen ) which many early commentators believe is the second sura revealed to the prophet. Also we can rename sura # 96 as Surat Iqra ( read ). Many of the prophet's companions have different names to different suras based on their understanding of the theme or themes of the sura.