Al salamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatohu. It has been another difficult week in America, and I pray that wherever you are, you are safe and healthy God willing (insha'Allah). As the news unfolds about yet another horrific school shooting, the continued hypocrisy of our so-called leaders, and the senseless deaths of 21 beautiful souls in Uvelde, Texas, it is hard not to feel everything from outrage to despair to hopelessness.
Around the world on the Muslim front, we are confronted with the same emotions with regard to the overall state of Muslims, especially given the trauma to our symbolic heart and soul - Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque, co-equal in importance to Muslims as Mecca, and which connect Islam to the line of Abrahamic faiths. Last Friday, Dr. Abou El Fadl shared in his khutbah the following visual being circulated by an Israeli far-right group, Lehave, which is calling for the demolition of Al Aqsa Mosque beginning this weekend on Jerusalem Day, 29 May 2022 (see below for the summary description of last week's khutbah).
This is bone-chilling. As Dr. Abou El Fadl promised in his khutbah: "Remember this image well, because when it comes to reality and when these excavators, in due time, start destroying Al-Aqsa
Mosque, I have vowed I will not answer from any Muslim any question about the idiotic minutia that preoccupies their minds and souls. When this begins, I will never talk about the technicalities
of wudu, of prayer or of fasting. I will never talk about the technicalities of anything, because as far as I am concerned, we are cursed. When this begins, it does not matter. It just does not
What should we Muslims do? Anything and everything. Go nuts. Tell others, protest, demand our Muslim leaders and Muslim organizations make this their priority, make sure every imam and khutbah across the country is talking about this, call our political leaders. There are many community organizers and activists who should know what to do. Most Muslims at this point are probably not even aware.
From the time I was a young convert until very recently, I never felt a strong connection to Al Aqsa Mosque or the events in the Middle East, or anywhere outside the U.S. quite frankly, when it came to Muslims. All of that changed after I began learning what the Qur'an was telling us - what God was telling us - through the Project Illumine halaqas. It is incredible that as of last Saturday, we have completed 78 out of 114 surahs in the Project Illumine series. The last few surahs in particular have been absolutely mind-blowing, as have they all, to be honest. Surah 63: Al Munafiqun described to us the degrees of hypocrisy in a person and completely crushed the idea that hypocrites are like an outlier category. No, in fact, we all have hypocrisy in us, and part of the challenge is identifying how and to what degree our hypocrisy obstructs us from the path of God. Surah 62: Al Jumu'ah gave us an unforgettably powerful lesson about priorities - are we truly God-centered, or are we driven more by pragmatism and ego? Surah 61: Al Saff cut to the chase - do we keep to our word and do what we say we will do? Are we on the side of light or darkness? There is no in between.
In my 28 years as a convert, even being married to Dr. Abou El Fadl, I have never heard anything like what is in these halaqas anywhere. The Qur'an in English translation was all I had, and while the translations were powerful in themselves, I had nothing to compare them with as a non-Arabic speaker, except other English translations. Overall, they seemed fine, but they felt like a collection of verses that had no real unifying themes, chapter to chapter. Many chapters felt repetitive, with verses saying many of the same things over and over for good emphasis (or at least, that is what I believed). While it felt good to read the English translations, at the same time, I wasn't sure I understood the significance of what I was reading.
Now, after Dr. Abou El Fadl has walked us contextually, traditionally, and thematically through 78 surahs, I am aghast at how unidimensional these English translations of the Qur'an are. It is the difference between hearing a symphony played by a single instrument versus the same symphony being played by a full orchestra - and then learning that the single instrument was often off-key! But even more important, how could I have been a Muslim for so long without being this connected to the Qur'an? But then again, I wonder, how can one feel connected to the Qur'an when one does not know what it means at a deeper level - something much more beautiful and profound than the unidimensional English translations that imply there is only one relatively narrow meaning for each verse. And how could I possibly have arrived at a deeper understanding of the Qur'an without also understanding the larger historical context in which surahs were revealed, which includes being able to step back in time in someone else's shoes and trying to understand what life was like back then and what was going on at the time of revelation. I would never have come to this understanding on my own. This understanding is only possible from a scholar's obsession - THIS scholar's obsession with mastering the epistemology of the Prophet's age, and then mastering the epistemology of our age to connect the two on moral and ethical grounds. This is what allows us to understand and then seek to apply the moral message of the Qur'an to our own time; this is what makes the Qur'an come alive and become relevant for our lives. This is what sets Project Illumine apart from other commentaries.
But this begs the question - what other commentaries? Are there other scholars right now who are taking deep dives into every surah of the Qur'an? Are there any comprehensive approaches to the Qur'an that offer a cohesive methodology, thematic understandings by chapter, and original contributions to the tafasir literature? If there is, we have not heard about it, but if you are aware of any, please do let me know!
But it is most certainly happening here at Usuli and it is priceless. What do you do when you recognize that THIS study of the Qur'an is what has the potential to be the game changer of game changers, yet very few people know it? I ask myself, isn't it strange to be a Muslim and not have a very good understanding of the Qur'an? It has always felt to me as a convert that more priority was given to understanding hadith or memorizing the Qur'an - but not understanding the Qur'an. For example, why is it that Muslims spend so much time and energy on discussing and debating hadith rather than discussing, debating and engaging the Qur'an? Why is it okay that Qur'an reciters can recite the Qur'an without understanding what they are reciting? Isn't that odd, and actually wrong? It feels insulting to God, as if God would prefer form over substance! Now that we have had the privilege to step into Dr. Abou El Fadl's shoes to understand his methodology and process - and then see and experience the fruit of his labor in opening the meaning of the Qur'an - there is no turning back. It is clear that God left us something profoundly beautiful, humanistic, vibrant and demanding in the Qur'an - a true miracle and wellspring of knowledge and wisdom for those who are willing to invest the time to learn it.
We have been given a gift in these Project Illumine halaqas, and the more you engage with the gift, the more the gift returns to you. Now, as we embark this weekend on our 79th surah, insha'Allah, the burden and responsibility of this learning is at once elevating and weighty. It is enlightening and burdensome. Our accountability before God has increased, and our responsibility to share it with others has grown. I truly believe we have been given the gift of light in the midst of the extreme darkness of our times. For those who are truly seeking, it is a lifeline. What we do with this gift is the test. May we all pass, insha'Allah!
Looking forward to seeing you online for our khutbah today and tomorrow night at 6 pm ET FOR A NEW SURAH! Please keep all of us in your prayers!! May God keep you and your loved ones safe and protected and on the most beautiful path always! Hope to see you online soon insha'Allah!
In Peace and Hope,
The Usuli Institute