Friday, March 4, 2016

A Worthy Adversary, Part 6 Evil Influences on the Mundane

The title of my khutbah today is Evil Influences on the Mundane. It is part 6 of A Worthy Adversary series.

In this khutbah, I will continue to review the hadith literature to give an overview of the presence of Iblis in daily life, the times of the day Iblis or Ash-Shaytan is most effective, and the defenses God offers believers to combat this persistent foe. To reiterate from my previous khutbah, the hadith are part of our tradition, whether we agree with it or not.  For many centuries, the hadith have been grounded in a consensus of certainty- this is how Ibn Rushd defines orthodoxy, the consensus of certainty.  However, with new sources of knowledge in the scientific, medical and technological realms, this consensus has broken down between Muslims. While you will find some Muslims who strongly adhere to hadith, you will also find Muslims who barely pay any attention to hadith. Hadith are not necessary for their daily spiritual practice. Nevertheless, I think it is important to understand the historical overview of the hadith tradition regarding the source of evil and the prescriptive measures for how to combat it. I do this so you can be sensitive to how particular theories regarding the nature of evil can direct human actions. For example, if you’ve ever had an aunty get hopping mad at you for walking in front of her while she was praying, I think you will understand the source of her anger by the end of this khutbah.

The hadith consistently emphasize the efficacy of prayer as defense to all satanic temptations. According to hadith, Satan need only hear the call to prayer to be struck down with revulsion, rendered impotent, and he quickly retreats on the wind before further damage can be done . Prayer affirms the believer’s allegiance to God and rejection of Satan’s seductive webs.

Ibrahim Ibn Al-Mustamirr Al-‘Uriqi told us, ‘My father related that ‘Ubays Ibn Maymun related that ‘Awn al-‘Uqayli related form Abu Uthman An-Nahdi, from Salman who said, “I heard the messenger of God-may God bless him and grant him peace!- say ‘He who leaves early for morning prayer, leaves under the banner of faith. But he who leaves early for the bazaar, leaves under the banner of Iblis.” --Ibn Maja, Sunan, 2:751 #2234

Since prayer is so effective at driving Satan out, Satan must work hard to weaken the prayer link between God and man. Therefore, the act of prayer is constantly attacked. Although Satan initially withdraws upon hearing the call to prayer, this is only a temporary set back, a strategic maneuver. Satan soon returns to whisper distractions (waswasa). When an individual becomes drowsy, inattentive, forgets the proper counting and sequence of prostrations and invocations, then Satan has done his job. If this happens to you, the hadith recommend that the individual perform two prostrations and continue on with prayer. The simple remedy will completely frustrate Satan’s efforts to distract the believer engaged in daily prayers.

According to the hadith literature, Satan’s attack on the prayer can externalize itself. If a person engaged in prayer allows another person to come into his presence and interrupt his recitation, then the offender must be immediately driven off, for he or she is a minion of Satan himself. In addition to apparitions of Satan in human form, he also appears as an animal, most often in the shape of a black dog. When a black dog disrupts a person’s prayer, the dog should be put to death as it is a sign of the devil.

In the hadith world view, Ash-Shaytan permeates even the most mundane levels of human existence. Ash-Shaytan is a constant companion through the daily routine.Therefore, a wide variety of du’as and formulaic invocations must be applied in order to prevent Satan from getting a foothold in the believer's heart. A Muslim must pronounce the name of God on entering his house, otherwise Satan will become his houseguest. God’s name must be invoked before eating, otherwise Satan becomes the constant dinner guest. Satan uses his left hand to eat, drink and taste, therefore Muslims can never use the left hand whilst dining. If food falls on the floor it is not proper to discard it all. Remove what was soiled, but eat the rest- otherwise you will be providing more food for Satan. I guess this makes the hadith supporters of the 5 second rule. Satan not only meddles with the meal, he also tries to tempt people into consuming what has been prohibited by divine law.

“Ibn Abi ‘Umar related to us that Sufyan related from Ayyub from Muhammad, from Anas who said, “When the messenger of God-may God bless him and grant him peace!- captured Khaybar we grabbed donkeys as they were coming out of the village. Then we cooked some of them. The spokesman of God’s messenger- may God bless him and grant him peace- cried out ‘Does not God and His messenger forbid you this? For truly it is filth from Satan’s work!” The pots with their contents were overturned and what was in them kept gushing out. “--Muslim, Al-Jami’ as-sahih, 6:65 Note: Donkey meat as well as the braying sound of a donkey are associated with Shaytan.

The hadith abound with prescriptions to counteract ritual impurity, because if there is impurity, then Ash-Shaytan is behind it.

The hadith are emphatic that Muslims must take refuge in God and in His law if they are to avoid the daily pitfalls that Satan prepares for them every minute of the day, and some times of day are more vulnerable than others. The transitions from light to darkness or darkness to light are periods of heightened satanic influence, although darkness is the most potent time for all things Ash-Shaytan.

Prayer should cease during the time of sunrise and sunset, as these are the times when the doors of Hell are opened up and Hell is also starting to heat up. After sunset, Satan wanders about freely at night. The house must be protected from Satan’s entry- lock doors, fasten waterskins and make sure the lids are tight on jars. According to hadith, Satan cannot loosen what has been firmly tied. Sunrise is the time of greatest discord between men (al-fitna).

“’Abd Allah Ibn Maslama related to us from Malik, from ‘Abd Alah Ibn Dinar, from ‘Abd Allah Ibn ‘Umar- may God be pleased with them both- who said, ‘I saw the messenger of God- may God bless him and grant him peace!- pointing towards the East. And he said, ‘Right there, truly discord is right there. Yes, discord is from right there where the horn of Satan rises.” Al Bukhari, Sahih 4:150.

The  distructive impact of fitna on the community and social subunits (family, etc) is a vivid and detailed concern of hadith manuals. For Iblis, fitna is an opportunity, from which he will send forth armies of devils to encourage discord among believers.

“Abu Kurayb Muhammad Ibn Al-‘Ala and Ishaq Ibn Ibrahim both said, ‘Abu Mu’awiya told us that al’A’mash related to us from Abu Sufyan from Jabir who said that the messenger of God- may God bless him and grant him peace!- said, ‘Iblis places his throne upon the waters. Then he sends forth his flying columns. To those who are best at sowing discord, he has granted a place close to him. One of them comes and says,’ I have done such and such’. Then he replies, ‘You have not accomplished anything.’ He said, “then another of them comes and says, ‘I did not leave him until I had caused division between him and his wife.’ He said, ‘Then Iblis brings him close to himself and says, ‘You have done well’”  Muslim, Al Jami’ as-sahih 8:138.

Anything that is contrary to proper conduct is also Satan’s work. Gambling and other games of chance were invented by Satan, as was frivolous talk and poetry. Famous hadith relate that Mohammad said, “…a man’s belly be full of pus is better for him than is being full of poetry!” (Muslim, Al-Jami’ as-sahih, 7:50).This is one example where I run into problems with hadith, and its not just because I like poetry. There are plenty of hadith that discourage participation in ancient traditions such as poetry, music, dancing, sculpture and painting. For me, there are far more dangerous influences on proper conduct in the 21st century than these activities. Sometimes I feel like Muslims are eager to accept new technology unquestioningly, because there are no prohibitions on it, no hadith to tell you not to do it. So when it comes to the things I worry about, such as propaganda, advertising, the use of social media to rob of us of our privacy and to radicalize our youth, on these topics, hadith are silent.


Since most of us are not as fortunate as Prophet Muhammad to have our hearts cleansed of evil influence by Jibreel, nor do we have our companion satan converted to Islam, according to hadith, the rest of us must seek refuge in God and perform extra ritual acts to escape Satan’s power.

Prayer is the most effective weapon at providing relief from satanic influences, and particular prayers are proscribed as protection against certain kinds of attacks. The first part of the shahada, la ilah illa ‘ilah, repeated many times is a general, all effective prayer against many different evils.

In addition to the shield of words, there is also the shield of sacred time, particularly the month of Ramadan.

“Yahya Ibn Bukayr related to us that Al-Layth related to us and said ‘Uqayl told me from Ibn Shihab who said Ibn Abi Anas, the muwla of the Taymi, told me that his father told him that he heard Abu Hurayra- may God be pleased with him!- say that the messenger of God- may God bless him and grant him peace!- said, ‘When Ramadan has begun, the doors of Paradise are opened and the doors of Hell are locked. The devils (ash-shayatin) are chained up.” Al Bukhari, Sahih 4:149-150.

Along with sacred words and sacred time, sacred places can be added. The Arabian Peninsula is the cradle of Islam, and all those who pray there are endowed with divine protection. Within the peninsula, the holy city of Mecca is the focal point where a believer senses most profoundly God’s mercy and refuge from Ash-Shaytan.

Nevertheless, despite the power of sacred words, time, and location, the interior state of the individual is what matters most. Hypocrites and unbelievers can perform prayers, fasts, and pilgrimages, but these acts increase their condemnation, not salvation. According to hadith, Trust in God and confidence in His Word are inner qualities and believers must accept God’s decrees with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’, the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ are Satan’s creation. In contrast to Iblis, believers must show humble trust and confidence in God’s will (irada) and command (amr). Every bow a Muslim makes during prayer is a reminder to Iblis of the confrontation that initiated his downfall.

“Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Shayb related to us that Abu Mu’awiya related from Al-A’mash, from Abu Salih, from Abu Hurayra who said that the messenger of God- may God bless him and grant him peace!- said, ‘When the son of Adam read about the prostration, he prostrated. Then Ash-Shaytan stood off at a distance and cried saying, ‘Woe to him!’ the son of Adam was ordered to prostrate and he prostrated. Now Paradise is his. I was ordered to prostrate and I refused. So the fire is mine!” Ibn Maja, Sunan 1:334 #1052

Man is weak and obedience to God’s will does not come easily to him. Iblis is constantly planning clever deceptions, forever committed to bring mankind into hellfire. Man’s ultimate victory can only be found through God’s mercy and God’s compassion, and God’s willingness to forgive man’s many mistakes. God’s forgiveness renders Iblis impotent, but God must patiently wait for men to repent first before He can give them His compassion and mercy.

“Then Muhammad said, ‘When the enemy of God, Iblis, learned that God the All-Powerful, the Sublime, had answered my prayer and forgiven my community, he took dirt and began pouring it on his head and making loud laments. The sight of his anguish made me laugh!” Ibn Maja, Sunan 2:1002 #3013

God’s mercy and forgiveness cannot be emptied, His heart does not harden. The hadith tell a story of a serial killer who had murdered ninety-nine people. This killer wanted to repent, but he was uncertain if penitence was still possible. He asked a famous sage “Is there any repentance left for such as me?” The sage was shocked, “After 99 murders?” The killer became enraged at this response, unsheathed his sword, and killed the sage right there. Now his body count was at 100.

   Soon after the sage’s decapitation, the killer felt remorseful, and sought out another man of wisdom. “I have killed 100 people,” he said, “is there any repentance possible for me?”.  Now this wise man was extremely wise, and he told the murderer, “Who would dare interfere between you and your repentance?” Then he advised the killer that in order to repent he needed to leave the evil environment of this village (where the wise man lived) and proceed onto the next village and worship the Lord there in a more righteous environment. The killer set out, but death overtook him on the way to the good village. Immediately, Iblis and the Angel of Mercy began to fight over who would possess the killer’s soul.

“Iblis said, ‘I have power over him! He never renounced his obedience to me for an instant.’ The Angel of Mercy argued, ‘But he left the village repentant’ and so they kept quarreling. ..God said, ‘Go, look. Which of the two villages was the closest (to him when he died)? Attach him to its people.’ When death had appeared to him he had urged himself on. He drew near to the righteous village and put far from himself the wicked village. And so they numbered him among the people of the righteous village.”--Ibn Maja, Sanan ,2:875 #2622

I would like to end my exploration of Ash-Shaytan in the the hadith traditions with an observation. While I do not agree with many of the hadith prescriptions and recommendations, underlying the foundation of hadith is the assumption that humans cannot control everything. This is a humbling and important reminder of our limitations.The Quran says,

“Don’t they see that We affect the land and reduce its borders? God decides, and none can reverse His judgment. He is quick to take account. Those who lived before made plots, but God controls all plotting. He knows the works of every soul and the ones who are ungrateful will know for whom is the Ultimate Abode.” 13:41-42

Unfortunately, the futility of humans controlling everything is something we have forgotten in our current era. We assume that because we can control some aspects of our world, we ought to be able to control everything. And once we have this idea of total control, it translates into comodifying  everything: everything has a price, everything can be manipulated to our desire. The result of this totalitarian idea of control results in enormous spiritual misery, abuse of power, and moral degeneracy.  Humans need to remember that when we try and control everything on a large scale, we screw it up. If you doubt me, take a look at what unsustainable agricultural practices do to our environment. The ambition to control everything is suicidal, the result is as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Lo! Men have become tools of their tools.” The poet Wendell Barry wrote,

“Human control on any grand scale is impossible, and the technological and political controls that are possible are frequently the opposite of order; any viable human order must come to terms with the impossibility of absolute control.” – from the essay “The Specialization of Poetry”

My closing du’a is from Quran 3:8 “Our Lord! Do not make our hearts deviate after You have guided us and bestow on us mercy. Truly You alone are the Giver.” Amen.