The title of my khutbah today is “Names That You Have Named”. In full disclosure, I didn’t start writing this khutbah until after the election results. I didn’t know how much the election would affect me or my family. But on Tuesday night when we started watching the election results, I was uneasy. It was too close. I went to the Quran we keep on display and randomly flipped it open. It landed on Surah 12, Joseph, the part where Joseph is sent to prison for crimes he did not commit. I didn’t have the heart to read it. We turned off the tv and went to bed, but that night I could not sleep. I tossed and turned, and my husband kept turning on his i-Pad to look at the latest vote count. Every time I woke up I said to myself, “We are screwed.” And at 6 am Wednesday morning, we learned that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States in January.
What could I tell my children? They were upset and I was upset. My husband rose to the occasion and took the calming tone. He reassured them telling them we must look for the silver lining, that no one can predict the future. He said that Hillary Clinton would have had a hard time in a Republican packed Congress. Trump will not spend his time arguing, he will get things done. Maybe Trump will pass a budget and support more science, because Newt Grinich is his advisor and Grinich always liked science. Maybe Trump won’t be able to do all the things he said he would do during his election speeches.Maybe it won't be so bad.
I couldn’t maintain my husband’s high road standard. I told my children that maybe Trump would have a stroke before he was inaugurated. We have had presidents that died in office, were assassinated, were removed because of scandal. Anything could happen because in the end, everything is in God’s hands.
Everything is in God’s hands. This is what the ayat in Joseph remind us,
“…and I have followed the creed of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. It had not been for us that we ascribe partners with God at all. That is from the grace of God to us and to humanity, but most of humanity give not thanks. O my two prison companions! Are ones that are different masters better or God, the One, The Omniscient? Those whom you worship other than He are nothing but names that you have named- you and your fathers for which God has not sent forth any authority. The determination is from God alone. He has commanded that you worship none but Him alone. That is the truth-loving way of life, but most of humanity knows not.“ 12:38-40
I had prayed to God about this election. I had asked him for Hillary to win. I had asked him for as many people as possible to turn out for the vote and be heard. But my prayers were not answered. If I ask God for something and He does not give it to me, then I must accept it. I must accept that God’s plan is better for me, only I cannot see it. And believe me, I am having a hard time seeing this one.
My family and I are afraid for the future of this country, and we are not alone in this. There is nothing that can be done for this anxiety, except to reach out to friends and to reach out to God. As much as we would like to think that we can control our future by electing the right government or eating the right foods or investing in the right assets or getting the right amount of steps, or studying or or or, the truth is we don’t control the outcome. We can only control our effort, our own behavior, our own attitudes and the rest is up to God.
Joseph was put into prison by people scheming for his ruin. He stayed there many years, but along the way, he made a few friends. I’m sure while he was in prison he wondered whether he would ever get out. I’m sure he had some very dark days. But in the end, Joseph used the skills that God had given him (dream interpretation), and eventually he was not only freed from prison, but he was elevated to a high status because of his gifts and skill. The story of Joseph teaches us to persevere, to use our skills, to cling to God in times of uncertainty.
When my brother was three he was unable to control his body temperature when he got a cold. Eventually he outgrew this, but at the onset of the slightest sign of inflammation, my brother would slip out of consciousness and start having seizures. I have persistent memories of my mother holding my brother helplessly as his whole body convulsed and twitched. The partial solution was to put him in an ice cold bath in order to bring down his body temperature. But in those moments as I looked at my brother in my mother’s lap, I really thought he was going to die. In the face of this uncontrollable chaos, my father tried to instill in me the importance of doing SOMETHING. My job was emptying the ice cubes into the bathtub. Even if what you do can’t directly help the situation at hand, perhaps you can find something to do that will help in some small way. As I got older, I learned that the ‘some small way’ might be the contribution to my peace of mind.
Fast forward from ten year old self to much older self 2016. I am totally stressed out about the USA elections. There is very little I can do about this situation. I am only one voter. What can I do for my poor country? I decide that I will get out the vote. Encourage as many people as I can to vote, because I truly believe that Republicans only do well when voter turn out is low. I manned a phone bank, I went door to door in neighborhoods. I only called people who were registered Democrats, trying to get them vote for Hillary. For the most part, people were polite or curt. No one screamed at me. I wasn’t murdered by a serial killer when I knocked on doors. And more importantly, at the end of that day, I felt good.
However, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t enough. Yes, the Illinois electoral votes went to Hillary Clinton, but my efforts weren’t enough. Just like my filling up a bathtub with ice cubes wasn’t going to stop my brother from seizing as his body raged with fever. These days, I feel like I have let my children down. What kind of world have I created for them? I have failed to protect them. But this 'failure' is actually an illusion on my part. I want to protect my children, but I am not in control. Their protection is in God's hands. I think a lot about Jacob and how he felt when he let his sons take Joseph out hunting and they returned empty handed. They told their father that Joseph had been eaten by wolves, when in actual fact they had abandoned their brother in a dried up well.
“And they brought about his long shirt with false blood. He (Jacob) said: ‘Nay, your souls enticed you with a command. Having patience is graceful. And it is God Whose help is being sought against what you allege.” 12: 18
What I would like to leave you with today is a reminder- just as Jacob could not see the larger plan that God had for Joseph, so we cannot see the larger plan that God has for this country. Now is the time to be graceful, to have patience, to seek refuge in God. The people of this country have named Donald Trump the ‘winner’, but this is the name that people confer upon other people. How long will this name last? If we look at our history and at past presidents, we know that this name will not last, that it will change, that it will be subject to the rigors of time, history and interpretation. The only name, the only brand, that truly counts, is the one that God confers upon us.
I’d like to end with a du’a from 2:286, last ayah of Al Baqara: 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. Ameen.