SUMMARY DESCRIPTION: We exist in an unusual circumstance and this khutbah is being given in an unusual circumstance. Dr. Abou El Fadl begins by explaining a few points about virtual khutbahs
that are important to understand. Scholars disagree on the sufficient number of people for a jumu’a to be valid; some said 70, 150 or 20, and some said a minimum of four other than the imam.
For a variety of reasons, in the United States – meaning a non-Muslim country where Muslims are a very small minority – Dr. Abou El Fadl’s legal opinion (as a traditionally trained Muslim
jurist) is that the minimum number of four, other than the imam, is the appropriate opinion. That means that you cannot have a virtual khutbah unless the virtual jumu’a is premised on an
actual jumu’a, where you have the minimum of four, other than the imam, and the khatib (the person giving the khutbah) follows all of the rules for a proper jumu’a. Where do these rules come
from? Directly from the Prophet Muhammad and what he taught. Dr. Abou El Fadl does not want people to rely on virtual khutbahs that are invalid. If a man stands by himself somewhere and says,
“I am doing a jumu’a and it is virtual,” and gives a khutbah, but the other rules for jumu’a are not fulfilled, then that khutbah and the entire jumu’a is invalid. It is unfair and deceptive
to those who follow along.
The very purpose of jumu'a is for a community to discuss and reflect upon its affairs and to remember the role that God plays in those affairs. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many religious services have been suspended, as religious services are not considered essential services. Yet, while the court systems are closed, legal services have been deemed essential services, so lawyers can continue to go to their offices and meet clients. What is considered essential is socially constructed and depends on one’s values. As Muslims, God is central to everything and there is no mental or physical well-being without God. The trial of this pandemic serves as a reminder that it is not possible to create well-being without God being central to our existence. It is a social construct to imagine that physical health, mental health and legal services are necessary, but religious services are optional.
Recognizing the role of religious services in our life and asking ourselves whether these services are essential or not forces us to ponder the role that God plays in our lives. If we decide religious services to be necessary, then we should be creative about ways of sustaining religious services while avoiding infection. Throughout Islamic history, there are precedents of jumu'a being held with a limited number of people, each standing a distance apart to avoid contagion. In our modern age, we can do the same and broadcast for people at home to follow along. The role of the khutbah is critical. If a khutbah fails to address people going through social and economic trauma, then the service fails.
While the Jewish and Christian communities have become very active during this plight, the Muslim community merely shut down their mosques and Islamic centers. Muslims are failing to find creative ways to support, bring comfort to and assure our congregations, failing to help the needy, failing to become active in becoming a part of the solution in a pandemic. As a minority, we owe an obligation to society at large, to the nation, to the world; but we first owe an obligation to our Muslim ummah. If an Islamic center is not collecting donations and organizing services to provide care for Muslims who frequent that Islamic center, then this Islamic center has failed.
The ummah is premised on brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam. When the Prophet immigrated to Medina, the first thing he did was declare brotherhood and sisterhood between Muslims – the Muhajirun – the migrants from Mecca and those of Medina. They fought each other’s battles and cared for each other during crisis; that was the secret for the success of the early Muslim community.
That bond of fidelity makes members of the same community feel a sense of pride, loyalty and belonging. Fidelity is critical for a Muslim to truly feel like a Muslim; a Muslim must be able to turn to their ummah in a time of crisis. The role of the Muslim community is critical, so it is distressing that the response of modern Muslim communities is to ignore the needs of the congregation but speak to the powerful. Muslims all over, particularly the youngest generations, have lost any sense of ummah, which is the key to our failures.
We must stop attempting to impress the powerful and instead pay attention to the substance of justice itself, as that is what brings God’s blessings. God does not bless those who impress power, but those who practice true justice, mercy and kindness.
God sends hardship, which we should take as a reminder to turn to God. This pandemic comes with so many lessons for humanity. A result of this pandemic is how much money was lost by the wealthy. If even a fraction of the money lost had been voluntarily dedicated to helping the impoverished, the underdeveloped, and refugees, would God have allowed this pandemic to hit the world the way it did? This virus comes as a stark reminder of the world’s immorality, as wealth is so unequally distributed, and those who are wealthy do not care about the suffering of others. While no one has kept record of the number of infections and deaths among displaced refugees or those in camps, we know exact statistics of who died in countries like Italy, Spain, Germany.
God created us and God loves us. Consciousness, life, reasoning and free choice are all gifts from God. We partake in divinity by having choice and having consciousness. Every day, God
blesses us with countless gifts of love. Every time we use our eyes, or find words to express ourselves, or hear the voices of your friends, or fill your stomach when you are hungry, or see
your loved ones, your parents, your children, it is a gift of love and evidence of God’s love. If we were to attempt to count God’s blessings, we could not count them.
We enjoy God's love all the time, but we take God’s love for granted. When we ignore, are impatient with or hurt the feelings of our loved ones, we take God’s love for granted. When we stop caring for the poor and needy or live selfishly and egotistically, we take God’s love for granted. God doesn’t create and hate. God creates and loves. God’s love continues to bless and surround us despite our ingratitude.
The coronavirus has reminded the powerful that perhaps they are not that powerful, and that but for the grace of God, a little virus can come and completely disrupt our lives, and come and take our health and well-being and everything we take for granted, and even our life. The only question is whether we will turn to God and acknowledge God’s message and blessings.
The instant after death, we will face one of two realities: angels who look like demons that notify you that your journey is over, or angels who will receive you and say, "Salaam”, meaning peace; meaning you will either be greeted by terror or peace. Our fate depends on what we have done with God’s love in our lives. The Quran says most people will live not accepting God’s love, only realizing their mistake on their deathbed.
When it comes to the final moments, where all is gone and one feels the shadow of death approaching, that's when the truth becomes very clear. Don't be among those who are foolish. Know that God loves you and it is only your failures to reciprocate that love that stop you from seeing this loving God. God gives and gives and gives. God has given us what is truly divine: the intellect and free choice – that ability that has not been given to any other creature but human beings.