Greetings of Peace (al salamu 'alaykum)! I pray you are well!
This past week was a very special and momentous one for us at Usuli! Our oldest son, Cherif, gave the Friday khutbah, and it was amazing. First, my kindest thanks and appreciation to all those who checked in to make sure that it was not because Shaykh was ill. Alhamdulillah (Thank God), it was not due to illness, but in truth, the idea for Cherif giving the khutbah came up in part due to the accumulated exhaustion of yet another brutal semester at the law school - Dr. Abou El Fadl is teaching two very demanding courses: Public International Law and the History of American Legal Thought, and chairing an academic committee, not to mention the usual demands of students, the Usuli demands, and the demands of the world at large (the countless emails that come from all parts and sectors that all are asking for something). So it was a welcome reprieve, a brilliant idea, and an important milestone for both Usuli and Cherif, when Cherif willingly stepped up to give the khutbah.
And what a khutbah it was! It was already a supremely brave act to agree to step up to the pulpit to begin with. As Dr. Abou El Fadl has stated (and as we published in The Prophet's Pulpit, Volume I), those who speak from the pulpit of the Prophet assume a very heavy responsibility. They owe the pulpit and the congregation "a diligent search for truth, justice, and superior knowledge - that which far exceeds common knowledge..." No pressure, Cherif! :) And, of course, Cherif was a bit nervous at the beginning. He had big shoes to fill! Cherif used to deliver khutbahs to elementary and middle school kids at the New Horizon School many years ago when he was working at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in Los Angeles. So this was a different experience all together, but wow, Cherif rose to the challenge and then some! You can watch Cherif's brilliant khutbah here, or read the edited transcript we will publish in this weekly email next week.
Cherif's khutbah was brilliant for several reasons. It was incisive, prescriptive, and hopeful. It revealed so much about Cherif. First, you will notice the fact that the khutbah was imbued with knowledge of the Qur'an. Not common knowledge, but deeper, insightful knowledge that he internalized through his lived experience (he is the son of a Shaykh after all!) coupled with his full engagement in the entirety of the Project Illumine tafsir. As we always acknowledge, Cherif was the one who was determined to get his father to complete the Qur'anic commentaries that began when he was a child. Cherif rediscovered and engaged his father's tafsir as a young adult studying abroad in Egypt and recognized how special they were. Cherif was convinced before anyone else that Shaykh would ultimately finish the entire Qur'an one day. For six years, Cherif patiently waited and took every opportunity to push his father to continue on the tafsir journey until it finally happened...and Project Illumine was launched! Alhamdulillah for Cherif's persistence!
Second, you will notice that Cherif's khutbah powerfully touched on the human psyche and tendencies of human beings in dealing with fear, need, and difficulty, especially in the age in which we live. These insights were borne from life experience as well as his education in the field of psychology. He is interested in the intersection of modern psychology and Qur'anic ethics, or in my words, how to elevate the dominant secular approaches to self, consciousness, and mental health with what a deep engagement with the Qur'an has to teach us about how to be divine human beings. I felt that Cherif's khutbah gave us all a taste of the beauty and power that that intersection could unleash in all of us - a more beautiful, hopeful, and God-centered life that could heal others.
Third, I felt the khutbah was prescriptive, hopeful, and compellingly actionable. Cherif didn't just set out the problem before us and stop there. He presented his own reflections, revealing a deep empathy and relatability, and then shared his own understanding of what the Qur'an tells us about ourselves and what to do about it. Ultimately, his conclusions about the power of human beings and our individual ability to make change for the collective were beautiful, reasonable, and touching. The reaction of others to his khutbah have confirmed my own witnessing of how moving, impressive, and inspiring Cherif was! Alhamdullillah!
As Cherif's mom, of course, I am biased. I have known how amazing Cherif is since he was four going on five years old, when he first came into my life. Yet especially as an adult, we have had countless deep and insightful late night conversations about life, God, and so much more, so I have seen how wise and brilliant Cherif has become. It is another experience altogether as a parent when you see that brilliance shine on the Prophet's pulpit! I was brought to tears!
Many people know Cherif according to the various contexts in which they have interacted with him. For example, our younger son Mido, who has grown up with Cherif and knows him as his cool older brother who he goes to the gym with and talks to about various things, was surprised to learn how interesting and deeply engaged Cherif was about the intersection of psychology and Islamic ethics when Mido sat as an observer as we recorded the recent episode of "Real Talk with Cherif and Baba." I must admit that I didn't realize how fascinating and potentially life-transforming the work at this intersection could be until I heard this talk. Honestly, I always learn so much when I talk to Cherif about this subject!
Another friend commented that you often don't see or think about people in a different light until you actually see them taking on different roles you had not imagined. I knew that Cherif was fully capable of delivering a smart, thought-provoking khutbah, but perhaps others had not. When all was said and done, Cherif's khutbah surpassed all my expectations. I am certain it had a similar effect on others who had never imagined that Cherif would give the khutbah at Usuli. It made me very happy that others could now appreciate the brilliance often hidden behind Cherif's often shy and reserved exterior.
For Usuli, it was a momentous occasion because it was a necessary signal for the future of things. Especially with the state of our world and the nature of constant change, I often think about what comes next. Shaykh and I will not be here forever, and none of us know when our last day on the planet will be. I believe that Usuli plays an important role in the moment in which we live, and I think it would be sad if there were no Usuli in our world. So it is important as a point of succession to think about what comes next, and who will carry the torch after we are gone. What do we need to do in the meantime to prepare for that eventual transition? Certainly, those who carry on this work must be well versed in the Project Illumine Qur'anic commentary, the Book of Illuminations teachings, Dr. Abou El Fadl's teachings on the Sirah, insha'Allah (God willing), and the Usuli methodology and approaches that are embedded in all of the knowledge we produce. May God guide us all to the best path always!
I am so grateful for the experience of Cherif's khutbah at so many levels. Aside from learning from the substance of Cherif's khutbah, I believe the occasion of Cherif's khutbah is an important lesson for all of us. What unleashed potential is within us that is not fully realized until we step out of our comfort zone and into another, bigger set of shoes. We admire those shoes, we have always liked those shoes, and imagined that one day, we might try those shoes on...someday. Why not today?
In Peace and Hope,