An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

The Lost Sermon – A Letter To An Imaam

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm

My Dear Brother in Islam:

May the blessings of Almighty God be upon you, the brothers and sisters of the Mosque, the people of Islam everywhere, all humanity and all God’s creation at this holy time of Eid, and always.

With many others of Edinburgh I attended the Eid prayers at 1000 on Tuesday. I am gratified and humbled to be with so many others who join together at this time. The sermon by our brother the Imam has caused me great concern however, in some of the matters he has addressed. Rather than bringing greater clarity and unity to Islam I fear that greater division, confusion and misunderstanding all too easily evolve from such words as we have heard.

Primarily, I refer here to his referring to the appearance and interaction of Muslim women with males within and without the Muslim community. With due respect, I would suggest that although he is entitled to hold opinions as is anyone, the views he espouses are a reflection of social and cultural custom and tradition of a particular society, not of the Holy religion of Islam. There is a clear distinction between the local customs of some nations and cultures, and religious obligation as described through the Revelations of God’s Messenger (sas). The opinions of my brother the Imam bear no relevance to the culture and social customs of Scotland and Britain, nor of many nations and peoples of the world but rather serve to create divisions within both Islam and the world in which it dwells.

In an evolving social world it is entirely appropriate and in keeping with Islamic principles that women, as well as men, would present themselves in keeping with the culture and society in which they live. There is no reason a woman should be precluded from “wearing scent” as the iman said, any more than a man would of using aftershave. Rather we should be encouraging that which contributes to the essence and dignity of the human spirit which is the essence of Holy Law.

In Scotland as in many other parts of the world, we live in a multi-cultural society and Muslims whether from this society of a foreign one, have as much a right, and should be encouraged, to integrate into the life of the society and culture found here, so long as it is not in conflict with the specific religious obligations. What applies to another culture in a distant land is completely inappropriate to this one and for the peoples living here.

In this regard, may I draw attention to Surah 5:48 of the Holy Quran: “Had God willed He could have made you one community” and Surah VI:52: “Repel not those who call upon their Lord at morn and evening, thou are not accountable for them…that thou shouldn’t repel them and be of the wrongdoers.”

(tr. Mohammed Pickthall).

To suggest that a woman who adorns herself in keeping with local social and cultural custom and her own self-respect is somehow in violation of a “law” arising from social custom elsewhere, discouraging her adornment, is an affront both to the dignity of womankind, and and to the male who seeks to promulgate such myths.

I wish to suggest that if Islam is to truly be the spiritual and social vehicle addressed to all mankind until the end of time (does not our iman accept this?) it therefore must be a fluid, evolving, flexible instrument from God to the human spirit. It would move forward as it evolves from the past, to the present and future centuries – not to be held in a cultural time capsule of one society with no relevance to the peoples of another time or society, and the people it serves: for Religion exists to serve man, that man may serve God, not the other way around.

With warm regards in brotherhood,

The above letter is by a European friend and fellow Muslim that was sent at the end of Ramadan several years ago to the imam of a central-area mosque in the UK. I was touched by this letter. For me the letter isn’t in its essence about a legal debate. He is challenging an Islam which is clothed is patriarchy, cultural conditioning and is devoid of spirit or essence. What has evolved is a sort of legalistic mentality which has lost touch with compassion, love, mercy and flexibility which were haul marks of the Prophet pbuh and characteristic of the early muslim community. As a result it can no longer adapt to meet the challenges of it’s time to produce people of stature, leadership who can serve as models of the highest human potential. Let me explain:
A few weeks ago I attended the Friday prayers. The Friday prayer starts with a talk by the Imam, normally addressing issues we face in society. I sat in this sermon and within a few minutes lost count of the number of ahkaam or rules we were being told which would invalidate or validate the ablution or prayers and the major ablution of the whole body. I just began to wonder if 99% of the attendees were born muslim why do they need to be given a whole sermon on rules which validate their ablution? Would that effect the quality of their inner or social life in anyway? Why aren’t we talking about issues which affect us in society? Why aren’t we talking about how to nurture our children for a tomorrow which is different to our yesterday as Imam Ali suggested? Why aren’t we reminding fathers to sit down with their sons to talk and listen? Why aren’t we addressing the patriarchal structures within families which in the name of religion and cultural conditioning limit the development of the ‘subordinates’ within a family be they male or female.  How many mosques have spaces for women and allow them to be part of their committee so that gender related issues within their communities can be dealt with appropriately? Why aren’t mosques acting as centers for their communities to address issues from marital to social problems many youth are facing today? Why aren’t we talking about education when 31% of young British Muslims leave school with no qualifications compared to 15% of the total population. (Source: National Statistics). Can we rightfully call ourselves the inheritors of a tradition of learning which give rise to the Renaissance? A poem by Iqbal reflects on the difference between the Islam that was a dynamic force giving rise to civilizations to the one he saw in his own time, that of the mullah.

My style may not he vivid and lively, still
Perhaps the meaning may enter thy heart:
The religion of a person Self aware and God intoxicated
Is like the call to prayer echoing in the heavens;
The religion of the mullah, a vermin of the earth,
Is the telling of beads, and mumblings in the dust.

What would an Islam rooted in its essential principles and spirit taste like? I felt I had the first glimpse of Islam as a truly living dynamic and awesome tradition while in a khaneqah in Delhi, India. What I experienced there was simply out of this world. The forms of culture, dress and language were present but it was at the same time transcended by a spiritual tradition which was awesomely alive. Another time I had tasted such an Islam was again with some very respected spiritual teachers and their communities in Turkey. Their communities were alive with genuine hospitality, love, adab and were simply some of the most beautiful expressions of the Islamic faith I had experienced in which men and women are seen as equals serving, helping and supporting each other. These were people of with truly sound hearts (qalb e saleem).

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  1. A while back, I was afraid of encountering just this scenario. But knowing of the profound beauty which is Islam, I worked up the courage to speak to an Imam today. And I have to say that it was very encouraging. Thank you for sharing this, Saqib.

  2. Masha’Allah.. I don’t know where to start.. I absolutely love this post and I absolutely agree with you!! These are such important issues, yet they all seem buried under so called ‘rules and regulations’ and perhaps ‘created cultural norms’. In a way there is a lot of fear within the Muslim community, the fear to not be accepted (as there is a strong tendency to label our fellow brothers and sisters, as Muslims or Non-Muslims), and therefore individuals choose to follow ‘blindly’ their local leaders, without calling upon their heart and asking whether they are doing right or wrong. The reason why this upsets me is because this very tendency to label other individuals is (as you mentioned before) causing divisions amongst mankind, which as result leads to dehumanization!! In my eyes a Muslim is a believer in God, and then I have to add that this (for me personally) includes all of humanity, no matter how they ‘practise’ their religion. Another issue is how one may deal with society related issues, instead of focusing on how to deal with changes in society and how to ‘adapt’ to them in a good manner, we focus on what one cannot do, without actually addressing and exploring the issue in-depth. It is unfortunate that there isn’t a lot of space for an ‘open’ conversation, as there are many platforms for discussions, but I feel they are held within certain barriers, where only a few can speak up, so the rest may follow.

    I think I have gone a bit of topic haha, but I felt like sharing this. Thank you once again for sharing your knowledge and wisdom with us.

    Shaidi

    • Dear Shaidi
      Thank you so much for your comments. Much appreciated and helpful. I have forwarded your feedback of this post to the author of the letter.
      Best wishes
      Saqib

  3. Assalaamo Alaikum,

    May Allah bless you and continue to place barakah in your work, and make the goodness you are spreading reach far and wide.

    By the grace of Allah, I have read through a number of your articles and find them beautifully refreshing, may Allah continue to benefit us through them.

    With love and respect, I cannot agree with the sentiment expressed in this article, may Allah reward you for your efforts. Islam is submission to the Lord of the Worlds, in the manner that He has instructed us to in His Eternal Knowledge and Wisdom. Whilst I agree that choice of topic for the Friday sermon requires reflection. and should be relevant to the congregation, one can never presume that there is a lack of benefit in learning the rulings of the Sharia’h. Spirituality in Islam is derived from adherence to the legislation Allah has bestowed upon us, and there can be no question that if wishes to draw closer to the Creator one needs to follow His Instructions. There is no path to Waliyah except through adhering to the law, and as the well known maxim expresses, even in an individual is flying around the Kabah or walking on water, should he violate the law in any way, then keep far away from him. Certainly, we need to address issues that are of relevance to our community, and perhaps the manner of presentation or the lack of context outlined in the sermon may be worthy of critique (and Allah knows best), but ultimately how can one begin changing communities if the average person is making fundamental mistakes in the ablution? Far more concerning for me than the lack of academic achievement in UK schools is the percentage of young people who complete the five obligatory prayers during the day. GCSE’s will not bring about spiritual enhancement or the betterment of our community, but turning to Allah in the Salah will. Indeed, Allah will change the condition of a people if they change the condition of themselves, and the very foundation, the first step towards improvement is establishing the Salah. With invalid prayers, or with no prayer at all, then we cannot hope to see the light of Islam establish itself in our communities. Indeed, the manner in which we can live a tomorrow that is different to today is through implementing the legislation that Allah has given us, beginning with the ablution and the prayer. The beautiful adab that you have witnessed in Turkey and elsewhere is product of a beautiful light that roots itself firmly in the heart, by following the noble example of the Most Perfect Master, the Guide to All Goodness, Sayidina Muhammad (saws), who would stand in Salah during the night until his blessed feet would swell.

    In attempting to have good opinion of the Imam, for the majority of our community, the Friday sermon is the only time they set foot in the Masjid. The Imam was probably attempting to use the time as best he could , teaching them the basics of the religion that are necessary to progress towards the Creator. Perhaps this is not the most riveting subject, yet one cannot build a beautiful roof garden before digging the foundations of the house. These basics, the washing away of sins in ablution, facilitating what the Holy Prophet (saws) called the ‘return to reality’ (the ritual prayer) is of the greatest significance in this time, because as the Holy Prophet (saws) said, the five daily prayers protect one from enormities. It is Allah that changes hearts, and so encouraging people to perform the ablution correctly, and hence increasing the blessings from their Creator, is a praiseworthy act.

    I am in no position to remind others, as my lower soul is seemingly all powerful over me. I sincerely intend to present what I consider to be true, please forgive me if I have said anything that is offensive or out of place, may Allah always bless you with goodness and beauty, and elevate all of humanity to the plane of success and peace, by His Will.

    With Peace,

    Yusuf Abdurahman

    • Dear Brother Yusuf

      My deepest apologies for a late reply. Thank you for contributing.

      My experience has been those who ‘when seen remind of God’ are not necessarily those who take a more strict or rigid approach to fiqh. Of course they remain within the law but they don’t complicate the deen. Often fiqh and Sharia are used interchangeably as though they were the same thing. What I experienced in the Khaneqa of Delhi, India and the lodges in Turkey was a realm of the Transcendent. This is missing in mosques today and I will not shy away from saying it. Iqbal says it like this

      “Ma’ni aur matlab hay daonao ki aik he
      Mullah ki azaan aur mujahid ki azan aur
      Meaning of both be the same, though
      The call of the Mullah is not that of the Mujahid

      or

      rehgei rasm e azan ruh e Bilali na rahee
      The form of the call remains but devoid of the spirit of Bilal

      This issue isn’t one of just ablution. It goes back to the state of the Ummah today. I highly recommend The Crises of the Islamic Civilization by Ali Allawi and also even the shikwa jawab e shikwa by Iqbal – if you haven’t read these already. With regards to education- well, isn’t our tradition one of teaching and learning – beginning with Ar-Rahman allama al-Qur’an? Seeking knowledge are sacred obligations from the cradle to the grave. If mosques in their standard curriculum don’t offer Qur’anic Arabic lessons (sarf and nahw), then may be a GCSE or A-level in Arabic will help students to go on discover the language.
      .
      Love and salams
      Saqib

  4. I was greatly moved by this post and related comments, which bring to light with intelligence, insight and passion one of the most pressing issues affecting Muslim communities today, i.e. the reduction and fossilisation of Islam to what the late Zaki Badawi once described as the ‘mountain of detail’ within legal prescriptions.
    I remember a talk given by a leading American scholar of Ibn ‘Arabi at one of the symposia organised by the Ibn ‘Arabi Society in Oxford several years ago. He was asked if, in his opinion, the decline of the Muslim world (in terms of its loss of the spirit of independent inquiry which animated it at the height of its cultural vigour and spiritual energy) was essentially an intellectual failure.
    One might have expected him to say yes, given the oft-repeated allegation that this decline was the outcome of the closure of the door of ijtihad (independent interpretation) and the replacement of critical thinking by taqlid (imitation, reliance on precedents and decisions from the past, or as more strongly defined by Muhammad Asad in his note to Qur’an 23:23-25, “the unthinking acceptance of religious doctrines or assertions not unequivocally supported by divine revelation, the explicit teachings of a prophet, or the evidence of unprejudiced reason.” The Qur’anic context here is the warning not to be bound to the inherited habits of thought and ways of life of the ‘forefathers of old’ but to use the faculties with which we have been divinely endowed to discern the truth.
    However, although the scholar acknowledged the obvious problem of intellectual decline, he went further: he said, “It was more than that: it was a failure of the heart.” And that, for me, really hit the nail on the head.
    Two traditional teaching stories come to mind. In the first, Nasrudin is ferrying a pedant across a stretch of rough water, and said something ungrammatical to him. “Have you never studied grammar?” asked the scholar. “No,” replied Nasrudin. “Then half your life has been wasted.” A few minutes later, Nasrudin turned to the passenger. “Have you ever learned to swim?” he asked. “No. Why?” “Then all your life has been wasted – we are sinking!” The emphasis on practical activity (and the deeper metaphor of immersion in the ‘ocean’) here illustrates that the formal intellect cannot of itself arrive at the truth. Still less can the truth be reached by reduction of the intellect to pedantry. This is what Rumi calls the ‘husk’ – “The Intellect of the intellect is the kernel,” he writes;” the intellect is the husk.” He is referring here to the higher aspect of ‘aql, the faculty of mind-heart which transcends the rational intellect.
    The second story goes like this: a conventionally minded dervish from an austerely pious school was walking along a river bank absorbed in moralistic and scholastic problems. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a loud shout coming from an island in midstream. Someone was intoning the dervish call, but mispronouncing the syllables. Instead of intoning YA HU, he was saying U YA HU. Our dervish decided that the ignoramus on the island needed instruction. He hired a rowing boat and made his way to the island. He found a man dressed in a dervish robe, sitting in a reed hut, and told him that it was incumbent on him to correct him, which he did. The other dervish thanked him humbly. The first dervish returned to his boat, full of satisfaction that he had done a good deed which bestowed merit on both of them, the one who gives advice and the one who humbly takes it. Then he heard a faltering U YA as the second dervish started to repeat the phrase in the old way. While the first dervish was reflecting on the perversity of humanity in its persistence in error, he suddenly saw a strange sight. From the island the other dervish was coming towards him, walking on the surface of the water…Amazed, he stopped rowing. The second dervish walked up to him and said: “Brother, I am sorry to trouble you, but I have to come out to you to ask you again the proper way of making the repetition you were telling me, because I find it difficult to remember.”
    Now, we might want to feel satisfied that we, like the second dervish, have gone beyond the stultifying formalisms which obsess the first. We are not captive, are we, to the legal prescriptions which represent a failure of the heart. Or are we? The story of the two dervishes is not meant to encourage us to congratulate ourselves on how, by avoiding literalism, pedantry and an obsession with legalistic prescriptions, we have attained to a higher state. It is meant to inspire us to look deeply into ourselves and track down those inner idols which we too may be inadvertently worshipping. Even the Holy Prophet prayed that he might avoid ‘hidden shirk’, that lack of awareness that he might, in some elusive part of himself, be worshipping something other than God.
    Of course, we must use our critical intelligence in observing the world. In contrast to the excessively text-based, legalistic orientation of much classical and contemporary Muslim scholarship, the Qur’an repeatedly calls on its readers to explore and study other societies and their ways of life, and learn the lessons of history. It also urges us to examine and commune with the entirety of the natural order – from cosmology to biology – as integral to the spiritual journey toward God (See Qur’an 2:164, 3:137, 21:30-33, 22:46).
    But the Qur’an advises us that God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves (13:11).
    So perhaps the best thing we can do in the face of failures of the heart and mind we may see around us, whether in Muslim or any other community, is to look within, and seek out the forms that such failures assume in ourselves. In what way are we like the first dervish, perhaps without knowing it? What forms, habits and prescriptions are we conditioned by? In what way are we wedded to dogmas and conditioned habits of thought? What lower aspects of ourselves masquerade as being enlightened? Can we sense our own ‘hidden shirk’? And above all, how do we rectify all of this within ourselves? Perhaps the ultimate wisdom is to realize that this depends on one thing: surrendering our whole being to God , that is, islam, in its original connotation.

    • Dearest Jeremy,

      Thank you as always. I have a question: In the cosmology of Divine Names – what is shirk? Or how did Shiekh al Akbar see it?

      Warmest
      Saqib

  5. May Allah bless you for your time and pure intention.

    May Allah guide us to what is good for our communities. Undoubtedly the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) instructed us to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave, which according to the classical scholars begins with the individually obligatory knowledge, which includes learning how to perform ablution and learning how to pray. This narration is regularly manipulated by those who wish to encourage entering our children into a system that indoctrinates them in materialism and rejection of the Almighty Creator. Islamic education has always necessitated pragmatic profit, meaning that the knowledge one gains should enhance the relationship between Allah (swt) and the learner. Acquiring certificates that purport to demonstrate intelligence but in reality are simply a witness to the ability to memorise do not enter into the ‘transcendent realm’. The weakness of contemporary Muslim communities, as taught by Sheikh Al Darqawi, is rooted in a love of the dunya, and an unwillingness to rearrange our lives according to the Shari’ah of our Creator. It is not strange to see that Allah no longer sends figures of the stature of Al Sheikh Al Akbar, because our societies are not deserving of them. Al Sheikh Al Akbar was a renowned faqih, who return to the law in every matter. The intellectual framework of past societies was the Sharia’h, hence the frequent emergence of Awliyah who continue to teach through their texts into the present day. If we seek to create women and men of piety, the first step is repentance and a return to the daily prayers. And in order to do this, we must be versed in the legal requirements of each action.

    Certainly, there needs to be a change in the way young Muslims are educated in their faith, to ensure that the necessary mercy and understanding required to accurately comprehend the law are present within our children. And the learning of Arabic, when approached with the correct intention, can never do harm.

    Finally, Allama Iqbal’s poem certainly rings true, and history is a witness to that. However, in my humble opinion, the operative word is ‘call’. And perhaps this is where we can come to an agreement. The Awliya ‘call’ people to Allah in a method that is relevant and appropriate to their time. They speak the language of the people, and address them in a manner that will touch their hearts. Yet the religion they call to is never changing. It is not to be believed that once the people are called back to the faith, that the tenets of the law are overlooked. The ‘call’ is the initial stimulus to change, upon which is built sound understanding of the law. Ruksa and Rahma should not be confused with a changing of the faith. Hence, perhaps the sentiment of the initial post is correct in claiming that the topic of the Khutbah may not have been the most appropriate, and a more moving address may have had a greater impact upon the congregation. Yet knowledge of the law is a necessary aspect of change, as through it, we call down the Mercy of our Almighty Creator.

    May Allah bless you and keep you safe,

    With Peace,

    • Dear Brother Yusuf

      After all what is the function of law in this respect? For the seeker of God abd’ al Haqq (Alan Godlas) points out how it is vital to contain the vertical. I do not wish to get into a religous debate but to rather share insights.Mine are simply this. It seems with the profound masters of tassawuf their approach to legalism differs depending on their order, time and community. Thats not my opinion, it an observation. All however share a deep profound connection with the Qur’an. Now, who is to judge? I’ll levae that to the Divine.

      Salam
      Saqib

      ps. Javed Mojaddedi has written an excellent study about the tension between Rumi’s Islam, a “religion of Love,” and the more legalistic religious system that gradually gained authority in the third and fourth Islamic centuries. Beyond Dogma, Rumi’s Teachings on Friendship with God and Early Sufi Theories.

      • May Allah bless you and elevate you inshAllah. Forgive me for my shortcomings in understanding and adab. Please remember my family and I in your duas.

        With Peace,

  6. Like wise Yusuf,
    May we be guided to al Haqq’ and be not of those who turn away after seeing the Way.
    Salam,
    Saqib

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