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We are approaching the last week of Ramadan. Because of how exceptional it is, this Ramadan serves as an amazing reminder that all the hubris of the modern world is not justified. Its pretenses of autonomy, independence and strength are fragile because the entire edifice of the modern world is built upon the mythology of human will and the mythology of powerful people. In many ways, it is a lie as big as the idols in Mecca.
In the modern world, we have our own idols, which fit our age. They are not made of stone, but are embedded icons nevertheless. Like the idols of the past, they are all premised on privilege, power and money. This Ramadan, for those who reflect, revealed and taught so much.
Whether it is that feed our pride and arrogance, we discovered that these jobs are fragile and can easily go away. Whether it is schools that we attend, and the entire universe of these schools that make us feel that God or religion is something marginal to our existence, what we discover this Ramadan is that event these schools are very fragile. It is an entire edifice built upon the mythology of human egos.
This Ramadan, we were forced to be alone. It was a reminder of the stark, uncompromising truth that the Quran itself reminds us of repeatedly: the temporality of human life, the fragility of human existence and the dependence of human existence on the higher power of God. So much of our animosity is nonsense because in an instant, we can all be made subsidiary and secondary.
Anyone who has gone through this Ramadan without thinking about whether they will live to the next Ramadan is deluded. With the world slowly re-opening, this deadly virus still exists and threatens us all and no one is guaranteed to live until the next Ramadan comes around. We should reflect upon why God wanted us to experience this Ramadan. We miss another opportunity to be on the right path when we experience something like this pandemic and fail to think seriously about the redistribution of power and wealth. Our world is one in which the rich can very quickly discover that their wealth is not as stable as they thought it to be, and this Ramadan comes at a time where the inequities of the world are stripped bare, forcing us to confront them. As the world opens up, we will be confronted with the issues of, “Who makes decisions in our societies? What are our priorities in life? Is human life the foundation of our civilizational existence? Are we committed to a vision of human rights? Or is it a discourse that soothes the guilt of rich people but is not substantive?” When confronting questions like this, it is critical that we turn towards God, looking at what God tells us.
This khutbah began with the recitation of a du’a from a number of prophets. We must notice the way that they spoke to God, their acknowledgement that this world is not our own. Without having an intimate relationship with God, where we do not take God for granted, it is easy to make God subservient to us. If we say God loves us the way we are, we rob God of a real will and God becomes a symbolic god. If one’s relationship with God is that God exists to love you unconditionally, God does not interact in a lively way and the relationship fails to affect your morality or teach you what is unjust in your society. If God does not teach you the rights of yourself and others, does not animate your heart with compassion, mercy and love, give a sense of meaning to your existence, does not challenge the arrogant, this god becomes an illusion, a god of idol worshipping, there to boost humans egos.
The core of every Prophet’s message from Adam to Muhammad, is to take God seriously. The core of their message is that you will never figure out you were created, but if you develop your iman (belief); acknowledge that there is a Maker and that it is the will of that Maker that justifies your existence; and if you develop a relationship with the Maker, while you may not get a philosophical response as to why you exist, you will get a spiritual response as to why you exist. The only way you can get a response is for God effectively to speak to you and given the way that the Prophets of God spoke about the Lord and with the Lord, when God speaks to you, it will make perfect sense to you.
All Prophets remind us that existence without God is alienating and scary. As children we have lots of questions, and as you grow older, these questions don’t necessarily get answered. But as you grow older, you become aware that these questions do not have answers. This exasperated awareness becomes more acute, and because you don’t have answers, you become addicted to distraction and delusion which causes you to indulge or worship things like money, power, family or other idols in the world. Or alternatively, as you get older, you discover that magnanimous, majestic relationship with the Divine. Then you realize that the responses to the big questions of existence, e.g. why do I exist; what is the nature of consciousness; why does evil exist; why is there so much injustice in the world?
Regardless of the philosophical response to them, you as a believer, get a response from your relationship to God. In other words, these very big questions are answered at the most personal and intimate level through your relationship with God.
This is why Ramadan is so critical, it is an opportunity for us to develop a relationship with God where we forgo our idols, egos and delusions that shelter us from our own insecurities. This Ramadan is special because God sent numerous messages to humanity, messages that could be life-changing not just individually but for humanity at large.
The second message that every Prophet of God taught, while they deconstructed the vanity of egos, was that the dignity of human beings is sacred. Every prophet appealed to the most dispossessed and powerless in society and taught that with God, they are equal to the most powerful in the world. In fact, in God’s eyes, they may be superior to the powerful. In modern discourses, this is what we call the philosophy of humanism.
Every Ramadan – especially this Ramadan – is a reminder of the message of every Prophet that God sent to us: your vanities are ugly; your delusions are laughable; your arrogance is condemnable; and human dignity is one and the same for all. Even if you are not equal on this earth because you managed to avoid being equal, in the Hereafter, you will confront the reality of your equality, and those who acted with arrogance and disdain towards others will pay for it.
The core of the Islamic message – and every message that came from God – was to transform human beings from worshipping fellow human beings, to worshipping the God of human beings. This liberating, empowering message emphasizes that to God, you are all equal to one another. The core of Islam is a liberated, empowered spirit that brings you tranquility and peace, and makes you a painstakingly ethical human being everywhere you go.
An example of this spirit is in the story of Zayd ibn Harithah, the Prophet’s adopted son, who was sold into slavery as a child. He eventually ends up in the hands of Khajidah who gifts Zayd to the Prophet before she passes away. The Prophet frees Zayd and builds such a close relationship with Zayd that he earns the title, “The Prophet's Love” or “The Beloved of the Prophet”.
Zayd’s family finds out he was in Mecca and offered to pay any amount to the Prophet for Zayd. The Prophet refuses any money and instead, gives Zayd the choice – the most ethical thing to do. Zayd was delighted to see his family, but chose to stay with the Prophet out of love. His father replies, "But you will always have the status of a former slave." Zayd's response was, “In Islam, that doesn't matter.” Eventually, Zayd not only becomes known as the “Beloved of the Prophet,” but also is appointed repeatedly as the commander and governor, enormously important positions, and marries a free woman from the most prestigious tribe. Islam came to underscore that there is no difference between a slave, a former slave, a free man, a poor man or a rich man. Islam does not rob people of humanity but honors human dignity. Zayd and the Prophet were inseparable until Zayd eventually dies in a battle. When Zayd is killed, the Prophet sobs. When the companions ask the Prophet how he could sob this way, he said again, “Islam doesn’t rob people of humanity. This is the passion of the beloved to the loved.”
Another example out of so many possible examples: this story illustrates the type of morality that a relationship with God embeds into people. Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman and his son both converted to Islam during a dire time. Muslims were forced to battle, despite being vastly outnumbered and undersupplied. They needed every person in their ranks to count.
In the Battle of Badr, enemies had more equipment and advanced weaponry, leaving Muslims disadvantaged. Hudayfah hears that Meccans are about to attack Muslims in Medina, so he drops everything and tells his son that they should leave for Medina to help defend their fellow Muslims. On the way, they are stopped by Meccans and interrogated if they are going to join the battle in Medina. Hudhayfah knows that if he says yes, they will kill them, so he promises the Meccans that they will not join the battle. When they reach Medina and tell the Prophet the story, the Prophet replies, “I'm sorry, but you cannot join us. You made a promise, you must keep it.”
Ethics, principle and morality matter. The dignity and the word of a Muslim matters. The Prophet kept them to their word and said, “And we have God.” And in fact, the Muslims won the Battle of Badr without them.
There are so many narratives that remind us that if Islam does not teach you dignity, elevation, humility, equality, human dignity and the importance of justice as the yardstick by which God will judge, then the Islam inside of us is not the Islam of the Prophets. God expects us to fulfill the principles of justice in our lives.
Build your relationship with God. There is only one week left of Ramadan. Find liberation in God. If God did not want our liberation, God would have never revealed the Divine self. God could have created us and chosen not to tell us about God's self. But God chose to tell us to bring us comfort, tranquility and a sense of purpose and stability. God's message from beginning to end is about justice and human dignity.