Responsibility and Beauty

My Dear Brothers and sisters, as salaam alaykum – greetings of peace to you.

Today’s Khutbah is about “Talking the talk and walking the Walk” What does this mean? It means do we take the responsibility, as Muslims, to represent Islam in our lives and in our relationships with other people? And especially with people of other faiths? Are we presenting ourselves as the Muslims that we say that we are? Do we represent Islam in the way that we say we do? It is a hard time to be a Muslim in a minority in a country (both the USA and other nations) where many of the people are distrustful and fearful of Muslims and Islam. Even though they may not even know one single true fact about us. In fact, ignorance of the “other” is the most compelling force in bringing about this distrust and hate. But what are we doing to dispel this ignorance? What do we do in our lives that helps alleviate and dispel the ignorance, and to counter the lies that are spread? What we have to do is much more than simply talk the talk. We need to do much more than come to Jummah once a week; we need to do much more than fast Ramadhan. We are in a unique situation in history. We are a minority Muslim community with an important message to send to our neighbors and communities. The message is that we are here, and we are not that different from you in so many ways.

I am often invited to participate in interfaith Thanksgiving services of thanks to God. If anyone here has any doubt as to the religious nature of this holiday and how it relates us as Muslims to the other faiths in this country I would ask them if they have ever read the Presidential proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and I will post it here now as an illustration. George Washington wrote it in 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and singal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the singal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted’ for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789. Signed G. Washington

This is a powerful statement by the leader of the country at the time. What differences between his words and words that we, as Muslims might choose to praise Allah (SWT) are so minor as to be insignificant. We are so much more in common than we are different. We must work together and as individuals to bring that message to our neighbors. After one of the interfaith services I spoke at I got an email from the pastor, thanking me for participating and in addition she told me that one of the people in the Choir had originally refused to come to the service because she heard that an Imam would be there and that, in her words “Muslims hate Christians.” Well her choir director convinced her to come anyway and the pastor told me that after attending the service and hearing me and the other clergy speak she realized that she was wrong, and had begun to change her views about Muslims.

Well that is wonderful, alhamdu’illah! But we cannot stop there. This was a very organized, safe situation for her to begin to learn, but we have to work every second of our lives in this country to dispel those un-informed prejudices.

A few years ago, I attended a conference at the United Nations entitled “Confronting Islamophobia.” There were men and women on the panels who were Islamic Scholars, and learned people from all walks of life, Muslims and non-Muslims. In addition to speaking about the political, sociological and economic origins of Islamophobia, another of the main points of the conference is this very principal. That Muslims in this country and in other countries where we are minorities have to work very hard to reach out to the other faith, and non-faith communities in two very important ways. First with our actions in our daily interactions and second with our knowledge in the schools and in the community organizations and in politics. We can no longer be quiet and discuss these things amongst ourselves, it is time to reach out and time to build coalitions. One thing is certain. From the viewpoint of growing numbers of ordinary people in this country, when Islam and Muslims are in the news, it’s bad news!

We do not have to be alarmists, and there’s no reason for panic, but we must face the realities out there. Unless we put matters right, there is now a real risk that we might be victimized like the Jews were in Nazi Germany. Their loyalty and patriotism was questioned, like Muslim loyalty is being questioned. Jews were stereotyped as scheming and manipulative people, exploiting others; here the far right wing describes Muslims as terrorists who come here because they hate our freedoms and democracy, ready to destroy us. We could easily ignore these allegations as the work of the lunatic fringe. But what if today’ s lunatic fringe becomes tomorrow’s majority, mainstream attitude? Anti-Muslim rhetoric is already spreading from the tabloid press and conservative talk shows to more mainstream media.

The Jews became scapegoats for everything that was evil and wrong in Europe. Their enemies promoted the idea that they were the cause of all Europe’s problems, and getting rid of them would cure the continent’s ills. If you follow the line of thinking in today’s popular press, you will notice a disturbing similarity with attitudes to Islam. It’s very similar to Germany in the 1930’s, and we all know what fate awaited Jewish people then. This is not Germany 1930, but we must learn from history, if history is not to be repeated.

There is only one way we Muslims can avoid becoming victims of hatred and violence. The Holy Qur’an advises us in Sura Al Baqara s2:v153 :

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ

وَالصَّلاةِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ002.153

Ya ayyuha allatheena amanoo ista’aeenoo bialssabri waalssalati inna Allaha ma’aa alssabireena

O ye who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.

Before anything, and also remembering all those words of thanks from George Washington we must firstly seek the help of Allah (SWT), with sincere prayer, supplication and remembrance: Salaah, Du’ah, and Zhikr. Then we must use our God-given intelligence, knowledge, ‘ilm, and work out a plan, a practical program. How should we deal with the flood of lies and distortions that are poisoning the minds of ordinary people towards us and towards our way of life? AND how do we deal with the restless and angry Muslims who see violence as the only way to redress injustice?

Then, and this is where we walk the walk, after we have done our thinking and planning, we must put our wonderful ideas into practice. As we say, after talking the talk, we must walk the Walk. We must strive hard to become the living examples of what Islam really stands for.

All the fancy intellectual discourse amount to this. Ordinary people like you and me and our neighbors today just want to feel safe and secure, they don’t want to feel threatened. Nobody wants to live with fear and uncertainty. And there is no reason our presence here as Muslims, should be the cause of fear and uncertainty? Why should our neighbors look upon us with suspicion and loathing? Is it because the right wing press is tapping into dark, subconscious emotions? Are there other factors? Do we share some of the blame? Does our own attitude, our own daily habits and actions, have something to do with the negative feelings others have towards us? Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that Islamophobia is purely the work of Islam haters. Our own conduct towards our neighbors can also either promote or prevent their friendship.

We don’t all have to go and speak at public gatherings, although some of us are probably very well qualified to do so. But if we simply get into the habit of greeting each other properly, and also greeting strangers with a smile and a pleasant disposition, that alone will start to make a difference. The subject of greeting is not just a trivial matter. It is so important that The Holy Qur’an reminds us explicitly in Sura Nisa verse 86:

وَإِذَا حُيِّيتُمْ بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّوا بِأَحْسَنَ

مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ

كَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا004.086

Wa-itha huyyeetum bitahiyyatin fahayyoo bi-ahsana minha aw ruddooha inna Allaha kana ‘aala kulli shay-in haseeban

When a (courteous) greeting is offered you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or (at least) of equal courtesy. Allah takes careful account of all things.

What may seem to us as being a trivial matter can really be of monumental importance. How many of us know that the Mongol invasion of the 13th Century was triggered off by an insult? Genghis Khan’s ambassador was bearing gifts to the Caliph in Baghdad when Muslims murdered him. As a result, Mongol armies swept across Asia, raping and plundering everything in their way. Magnificent Baghdad was destroyed with all its palaces and libraries. Millions were murdered, including women and children. The Caliph himself was rolled up in a carpet and trampled to death under horses’ hooves. When Genghis Khan was asked, why have you done this? He replied: ”Because you Muslims were unjust. I am the wrath of God, sent to punish you for your sins.”

Brothers and sisters, Let us not belittle even the smallest of good deeds, like accepting a greeting or a gift, courteously.

If others can see us as an approachable, civil, happy people, outwardly radiating an inner peace, people whose love for Allah overflows into a love for all his creatures, and letting it show on our faces, then we can begin to change impressions of us. Again in verse 165 Sura Al Baqara tells us that

وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِلَّهِ 2:165

… Waallatheena amanoo ashaddu hubban lillahi…

…But those of Faith are overflowing in their love for Allah…

And it is our love for Allah, our obedience to Him, our eagerness to please him, which will really make the difference.

It is said that Iman, faith, does not enter the heart of a believer, without beautifying it, and it does not leave the heart of a believer, without darkening it. Let us make sure that our Iman actually beautifies our hearts, and that this beauty shines outwards in our behavior, like it shone in the living example of Rasul Allah (SAW).

The Holy Qur’an tells us that “Truly, in the Messenger of Allah, you have the best of examples.” “Uswatul hasanah,” the finest of role models.

Here is a human being, chosen by God to reveal His completed message to mankind. Those who take the trouble to study his life, will find that besides being a prophet, a military leader, a diplomat and negotiator, a legislator and a head of state, Rasul Allah (SAW) was also an honest trader, a trustworthy associate, a loving father, a loyal friend, a devoted husband, a pleasant and helpful neighbor. In short, he was just a wonderful human being. The most perfect human being that ever lived. What an honor it must have been, even to spend five minutes in his presence! One of his contemporaries described Rasul Allah (SAW) in these words:

He was neither tall, nor lanky, nor short and heavy set. When he looked at someone he looked at them in the eyes. He was the most generous hearted of men, the most truthful of them in speech, the most mild tempered of them, and the noblest in lineage. Anyone who would describe him would say, I never saw before or after him the like of him”

When Allah tells us that Rasul Allah (SAW) is the best of examples for us, what does it mean? It means that whoever we are, whatever our station in life, whatever our professional calling, we have a point of reference, a role model in the Prophet of Islam. He was the last of the prophets, khaataman nabiy-yeen. We cannot be prophets ourselves, but we can benefit ourselves and those around us immensely by following his practical example. By studying his character, his noble conduct, we can improve ourselves in so many areas and live more complete lives. By taking Prophet Muhammad’s example in our business dealings, in our family affairs, and in our very important relations with the wider communities here, we can, insh’allah, turn the tide of negativity and hatred that is now directed towards us away from us and even turn it into an understanding and mutuality.

There is an excellent film biography, entitled ‘Muhammad, Legacy of a Prophet.’ This documentary took 4 years to make, and employed the best talents in the movie industry, with the help of well-known scholars and advisers. I also noticed that some anti-Muslim websites strongly criticized the film, and Public Service Broadcasting PBS network for its involvement in what they called ‘good public relations for Islam. Well, if this film upsets the Islamophobes, it must be good. Perhaps we should all buy the video and show it to our friends and neighbors, especially to those outside the Muslim community.

But don’t forget, the best practical example is we ourselves and our actions. Let’s start living Islam! We’ve talked the talk, now let’s walk the walk…

Part 2:

Dear Brothers and sisters,

The poet John Keats wrote: “Beauty is truth, and truth, beauty. That is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.”

The Holy Qur’an says that “Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty…”

The Holy Qur’an also says that the Most Beautiful Names belong to Allah. Surely, we who worship Allah, and follow the religion of Allah, must become people of beauty; we must cultivate beautiful manners, we must personify beautiful behavior. We must become the kind of people that others will want to emulate: noble, dignified, worthy of respect. How can we even be remotely associated with ugliness and repulsive behavior? This is not just a theoretical question. The implications are a matter of life and death for us.

Muslims have a simple choice. Should we leave it to the hate-merchants and Islamophobes to set the agenda, to trash the good name of our faith? Should we, by our silence, allow them to make us outcasts in this country? The failure of our leaders, and our collective failure of leadership has left scores of people believing they can restore the honor and dignity of Islam only through acts of terror and violence. And should we, through our silence, let others think that Islam is a religion of miserable and angry fanatics who aim to conquer the world by terror and violence?

Of course not! It is our sacred duty to show the world the real Islam, the true Islam, the way of peace with justice and compassion. Brothers and sisters, it is time we show, by our living example, that we Muslims have an important role in building a multicultural, multi-ethnic community.

There are a few simple but important things we can do, to begin the process of changing attitudes and changing perceptions, improving the status of Muslims and Islam in the eyes of our neighbors.

  • Firstly, we must politely and firmly answer those who publish misleading articles and programs about Islam. We must reply in writing and pick up the phone. We must present our case with elegance and honesty. Impartial readers and viewers will be convinced that we are truthful. We must maintain our dignity, and show that even when we are being abused, we ourselves do not become abusive.
  • Secondly, we must be more aware, more critical in the use and abuse of language, and we must convince others that labels like ‘Islamic terrorist,’ ‘fundamentalist Muslim’ and ‘secular Muslim’ are contradictory, unhelpful and meaningless. Journalists in the print and electronic media must be made aware of the careless use of language that reinforces stereotypes.
  • We must make ourselves available for public speaking engagements where we can educate people and this is even more important in our schools.
  • Just like Rasul Allah (SAW) is our ‘grand exemplar’ Uswaltul hasanah, so we must become the role models for others in the wider community. This is a big responsibility, but the stakes are high, and the future of our children and grandchildren here in the West may depend on it.

Brothers and sisters, we have to bring practical Islam into our lives. The road ahead is going to be rough, but it is the road to Allah’s pleasure. Just study the lives of the Prophets and the Awliyah, friends of Allah.

Let us pray to Allah, to help us become better Muslims, devout believers and true ambassadors of Islam. O Allah, help us to neutralize the mischief of hate merchants, help us to make a positive contribution to the wider communities in which we live, help us to provide good leadership to our youth, and help our angry youth to find correct guidance, and to avoid the temptations of violence and terror. O Allah, keep us vigilant so that we do not commit any injustice to anyone. O Allah, grant us your wisdom your guidance and your protection. O Allah, help all those who suffer hardship.


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