CULTIVATING RESULTS (continued)
The rituals of our Islamic practices –articulating the Shahadah, performing Prayer, giving Zakah, practicing Fasting – are not ‘magic.’ But rather, the accomplishment of them ‘primes the [water] pump,’ so to speak, and prepares for the spiritually life-giving ‘water’ to flow. They are designed to melt the heart of human beings, and to result in submission to our Lord. If we are sincerely looking for guidance, purity of heart, forgiveness, acceptance by our Creator, then we need to take seriously the ritual and standard practices that are given to us for attracting and cultivating these results.
Our core Islamic ritual acts are physical acts. They are acts of worship above all, and thus they are designed to construct and strengthen in our hearts and minds the psychological and spiritual configurations which bring about the highest good for both the individual and his social group. It is not acceptable to abandon these practices and patterns in exchange for others.
The Straight Path which has been laid out for us is the ultimate win-win state of affairs for us as human beings, regardless of our geographical location or cultural heritage. This path is indexed to belief in mankind’s singular Deity —known to the Arabs as “Allah” [God] — the Originating Power who created mankind and formed the world of which we are an integral part. Within our immediate reach and even within our limited scope of awareness, He continues His Presence with us, mercifully overseeing all of creation and calling us to recognize its Lord as our Lord.
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He is with you wherever you are. For God [alone] is all-seeing of all that you do. [Sûrah Al-Hadid, 57:4]
Confidence in our Creator emanates out of the person we choose to become and out of the grateful attitude with which we express our response for God’s help. Such firmness of spiritual insight does not allow for sustaining an atheistic viewpoint; in fact, many arguments are presented within the pages of the Quran in response to those Arabs in the Prophet’s day who rejected the concept of the Day of Judgment and the idea —most unwelcome to them— of a Deity who would hold them to account for their lawless independence and their disregard for justice.
In their Time of Ignorance [Jahiliyyah] before Islam, violent force and the cycle of retaliation ruled the response to any challenge against the tribal power structure, the ‘Way of the Fathers.’ This dyed-in-the-wool resistance to change plagued their reception of Muhammad’s divine message sent to his own people. Raiding and pillaging was a way of life for those lacking trading or agricultural resources. They had bred unrivaled camels and horses, and relied on these assault chargers for maintaining their tribal dominance. Islam was intended to un-seat this tribal pattern and to replace it with the brotherhood of all believers at the top of their social hierarchy.
In the Quran, we find Allah calling the Bedouin Arabs, the keepers of the Arabic language’s literary excellence, to embrace His warning of accountability — by appealing to the prowess of their military machine. The following surah drives home the crucial error they were making (in fact, the fatal flaw of all humankind) when they lost sight of who they were created to be:
[I adjure you] by the charging steeds panting, [galloping,] and striking [with their hooves] sparks [on the rock]! And [by] the raiders raiding at the break of dawn, stirring up therewith a cloud of dust, thereby penetrating into the midst of a gathered host!
Indeed, man to his Lord is, most assuredly, ungrateful. And, indeed, to this he, himself, is most assuredly a witness [by his deeds]. And, indeed, in his love of worldly goods, he is, most assuredly, ardent.
Does he not, then, know that when all that is in the graves will be unearthed, and all that is [locked up] within the breast [of people] will be bared—indeed, their Lord, on that Day, will, most assuredly, have been all-aware of them? [Sûrah Al-‘Âdiyât, 100:1-11]
By contrast, our Upright Road unites its travelers —peaceably— under the direction of the single One Lord of us all. Our unity of community can never be predicated upon all of us seeing eye-to-eye, 100 percent, all of the time, on every issue. We are unified with each other only on the basis that we submit, one and all, to the same Lord, who requires the same set of standards from us all, equally.
So fear God. And set things aright among yourselves. And obey God and His Messenger, if indeed, you are believers. [For] only those are true believers who, when God is mentioned, their hearts tremble; and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord [alone do] they rely; and who [duly] establish the Prayer and who spend [charitably] out of what We have provided them. It is these who are, in truth, the believers… [Sûrah Al-Anfâl, 8:1-4]
Unity of community can be maximally realized only when we share with each other an honest mutual respect and a sincere commitment to cooperation. This attitude sets the stage for a remedial psychological transformation, which in turn nourishes the Muslim community and brings it into healthy alignment with what was put in place by Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). The family-of-faith community extends beyond one’s tribe or immediate blood-relatives.
He is the One who sent among the unlettered people [without a Scripture] a messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His [revealed] verses [of the Quran], and purifies them, and teaches them the [Heavenly] Book and the wisdom [of revelation]. And, indeed, before [this] they were [utterly lost] in clear misguidance. And [He has sent him as well, to all] others besides them who have yet to join with them [in receiving God’s message]. [Sûrah Al-Jumu’ah, 62:2-3]
UNITY OF COMMUNITY — FINDING YOUR NICHE
This ideal psycho-spiritual structure of the heart and mind is closely linked to the spiritual health of the individual as mutual receiver AND giver of benefit within his own community. If you are not such a receiver AND giver, you need to seek out the ways and means to fulfill both roles, right where you are at present. Ask Allah to give you your own personal way to serve, as well as exploring how you can best be served by your community. In whatever way you are engaged in your community, keep in mind that you need to bring along the others around you. They need to be involved, too.
‘Two Muslims will not meet and shake hands, praise Allah, and ask Him for forgiveness without having their sins forgiven them before they separate.’ (Sunan Abi Dawud 521)
In any project which you or your masjid undertake, share the burden. You will not have to look far to find a worthy project to benefit your faith community or society at-large: food bank or soup kitchen, medical or legal services, marriage and personal counseling, educational and job-training programs, visiting the sick or helping out the elderly and handicapped. There are needs all around us that we can all help fill. Appropriately designed outreach (da’wah) and properly organized anti-Islamophobia campaigns are special needs of our times.
Keep in mind that most people decline taking responsibility if they are expected to pull off the whole project by themselves. (Even if they reluctantly take up a role, they may even be severely criticized for supposedly “seizing control,” or making decisions alone or doing their job wrongly–even when no one else stepped forward to help!!!)
In fact, it might well be that a number of hands would gladly step up to volunteer for most efforts when they find that they are members of a team and can accept a pre-announced publicly-defined small part of the whole project. Keep in mind that people need to be rewarded by being given shared credit in a joint effort. So, make sure to acknowledge them in front of the group for their participation.
The relationship between the community and the individual is two-way: The more the individual benefits from the community, the more s/he should be eager to “give back” to the community, according to his/her expertise and interests. The more the community is benefitted by the contributions of the individual, the more the community naturally would feel obligated to make sure that he or she—in fact all of its individuals— have their needs accommodated.
O you who have attained to faith! When you are told, “Make room for one another in your collective life,” do make room: [and in return] God will make room for you [in His grace]. And whenever you are told, “Rise up [for a good deed], do rise up; [and] God will exalt by [many] degrees those of you who have attained to faith and, [above all,] such as have been vouchsafed [true] knowledge: for God is fully aware of all that you do. [Sûrah Al-Mujâdilah, 58:11]
So then, how does one —for his part— “start the ball rolling” in building an active and committed community of God-fearing, God conscious people? Or, how does one revive a dormant community? In either case, one starts with the one person whom he can count on – himself! He brings himself into line with what is required of him by his Lord, first and foremost. Only then does he exhort others to do the same —after which they can join together to launch their well-defined local initiative.
Now then, if your efforts to rouse and revitalize your own commitment have not been entirely successful, then think about enlisting a partner in this effort. Remember, two persons allied with Allah are on the winning team.
Anas b. Malik reported that Abu Bakr Siddiq reported to him thus: I saw the feet of the polytheists very close to us as we were in the cave. I said: O Allah’s Messenger, if one amongst them were to look [down at the level of] his feet, he would have surely seen us. Thereupon he [Muhammad] said: Abu Bakr, what can befall twain who have Allah as the third One with them? (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim)
If you do not support him [the Prophet], [still, it suffices that] truly God supported him when those who disbelieve expelled him [from Makkah]. He [Muhammad] was the second of two [alone] when they were [hiding] in the Cave [of Thawr]. Then he said to his Companion: Do not grieve, for indeed, God is with us. … [Sûrah Al-Tawbah, 9:40]
…To be continued in Part 16