“Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a viceregent on earth”. They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- Whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy name?”
He said: “I know what ye know not.”
And He taught Adam the names of all things, then He placed them before the angels and said: “Tell Me the names of these if ye are right.”
They said: “Glory to Thee, of knowledge we have none, save what Thou hast taught us; in truth it is Thou who are perfect in knowledge and wisdom.”
He said: “O Adam! Tell them their names.” When he had told them, Allah said: “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what ye reveal and what ye conceal?”
And behold, We said to the angels, "Bow down to Adam"; and they bowed down; Not so Iblis, he refused and was haughty. He was of those who reject faith." Qur’an 2: 30-34
In today’s khutba, I hope to answer some important questions that we as Muslims sometimes ask ourselves, challenge common sense, and hope to share with you a different perspective. Today’s khutba is for the most part on free will. More specifically, the ability to act independently and think independently. The reason being is that our free will seems to grant us a very special status among the creations of Allah (swt). One example of how prevalent and important our free will can be found in an ayat concerning Angels. When I ask you to describe Angels, what comes to mind? Due to today’s culture, you probably imagine very pious beings. Beings that are of the utmost purity. Beings that have a strong connection to Allah (swt). Beings that can refuse Shaytan’s temptations. Beings that have the clearest sense of ethics. Yet in 2:34, Allah (swt) commands the Angels to bow before humans. What do we have that Angels and other creations do not? The answer is free will over our actions and free will over our thinking. With that in mind, let us discuss our ability to act independently.
The Qur’an and Hadith seem to suggest that the ability to act independently is actually very unique. Animals, for example, don’t entirely appear to have free will over their actions. This seems to be evident in the Qur’an because Allah’s will is typically enforced by animals, as with the cave spider and the Prophet Muhammed (pbu) or the Prophet Yunus (pbu) and the whale. However, our free will comes with responsibility. If we don’t fast, don’t pray, don’t even believe in the shahadah, our lives are not in imminent danger. Allah (swt) will not necessarily strike you down with a lightning bolt from the heavens. We have the option of committing crimes, or being law-abiding citizens. Some people would go so far as to say that some of the worst human atrocities in history have happened because of our free will. Now, this is not to say that there will not be consequences in the hereafter- there most certainly will be a weighing of your deeds at the Day of Judgement. However, in this life, our religious and moral actions are entirely our choice. In my opinion, this makes our prayers all the more sincere because we have the option of either praying or not praying. An Angel or animal would not have this freedom of choice. Now, you may be wondering why I am choosing to discuss free will over our actions. The reason why I choose to discuss this topic is that for many years, and even in today’s modern age, there seems to be this push to have Allah (swt) do our work. The Prohphet (pbu) actually addresses this movement in a rather interesting Hadith.
One day Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it and he asked the Bedouin, "Why don't you tie down your camel?"
The Bedouin answered:"I put my trust in Allah."
The Bedouin answered:"I put my trust in Allah."
The Prophet then said: "Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah" (At-Tirmidhi,). The Prophet is essentially saying do it yourself. Allah (swt) may help you , but it is always imperative that you involve yourself as much as possible.
We are blessed with the ability to learn, think, interpret, and analyze whatever piece of information we deem to be important. Learning and getting an education was especially important to the Prophet (pbu) if we can all recall his memorable hadith “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr.” Furthermore, our ability to learn and think independently makes us very valuable among Allah’s (swt) creations.
Let’s return to Angels, or rather, education and thinking among angels with 2:32. This ayat is essentially saying that Angels can’t think on their own, and can’t learn new information. We, on the other hand, can. Our knowledge is not limited to the Qur’an, it extends to science, mathematics, rhetoric, or music. All of this knowledge is outside of what is explicitly described in the Qur’an, and there is nothing wrong with pursuing it because if you can recall, Allah (swt) commanded the beings that could not learn or think on their own to bow before the beings that could. In other words, don’t be an Angel, learn and think on your own. The reason why this issue is important is that our freedom to learn and think, make us who we are and are well-established rights in the Qur’an. Yet, across the Muslim world, people are trying to deny these rights. In Nigeria, Boko Haram is attempting to ban all books that aren’t the Qur’an and shut down schools. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is replacing science classes with Qur’anic classes. There are many more examples across the world, and while it might occasionally seem slightly innocent, because Islamic studies are being taught, but know that these are violations of rights to learn, think, and act with free will- independently. These are rights the Qur’an not only protects, but promotes.
I will conclude today’s khutba by urging a new kind of piety. The reason why I believe this change must take place is because when we think of a pious, religious, or holy person, we do not always think of a philosopher, artist, or musician. We tend to have this idea that in order to be pious, we must blindly memorize Qur’anic surahs in old Arabic, obey every word of our imam, or attempt to recreate the lives of the Prophet and other divine Muslim figures. However, this is what I consider “Angel piety,” because this is how Angels live their lives: revolving around Allah’s every word and not wanting to learn new words. We should begin a piety that reflects our human qualities such as thinking, learning, and acting freely. The human qualities that make us different, but superior to Angels and other creations of Allah (swt). Instead of just memorizing surahs, think about what they mean and what they urge you to do. Write about the surah and its meaning to you. You don’t have to be a khateeb to have an opinion. If you wish to be even more pious in your actions, use your creativity and think of other ways to serve Allah (swt) in ways in addition to Prayer. Community service and volunteer work are just some examples. But regardless of what you may do, think or learn, know that you are a free individual that can make choices about their Faith. Religious scholars may be wise, but they are not the all-knowing, and should be giving advice, not orders. You can ignore, follow, or even expand upon traditions, but in the end it’s all up to you.
-by Guest Khatib AR