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I didn’t know I was “white” until I became Muslim. I always used to think of myself as a human being. Other people were “black” or “indian” or whatever. I was just a person. And when I looked out at the world of books, television, movies, fantasy, sci fi, music, politics, business, and so on, I saw the world reflecting back to me the same self understanding. I liked rap a lot, but considered it “black music,” and felt self-conscious about not having full access to its inner sanctums. It was the aesthetic equivalent of feeling scared when we drove through Cabrini Green on the way to watch the Chicago Bulls – I knew I was out of place. But these were isolated events – I could always retreat rather quickly to the safety and security of my white world.

When I went to boarding school as a sophomore (well, we called it “lower year”…Go Blue!), for the first time I interacted on a daily basis with black peers. I had some black friends from summer camp, but that was only two months out of the year. But looking back on it now, I see how boarding school was still a microcosm of the larger society. We would wonder why so many of the black kids sat together at meals, never once realizing that most of the white kids were sitting together ALL THE TIME! It would have sounded weird to us if you had described it as a “white-majority school,” although we had no problem talking ad nauseam about “minorities.” I had some black teachers and coaches, but no one I would call a serious mentor.

The first time I wrote down the words, “I think I want to become a Muslim” was after finishing the Autobiography of Malcolm X in the summer between boarding school and college. The way he weaved the American narrative of race and injustice with the Muslim story of brotherhood and redemption struck a deep nerve. Most powerfully, when he spoke of his pilgrimage to Makkah, I felt that it might be something for me.

By the grace of God, I have since been to Makkah three times. By God’s arrangement, my first teacher of Islam was a black imam/prison chaplain from Brooklyn who studied for many years in Pakistan. You cannot imagine the psychological re-wiring that happens when your living exemplar of a man of God is a person you previously wouldn’t have even paid attention to, let alone spent many hours with. He taught me the basics of classical Arabic, how to read the Qur’anic text, how to improve my prayer, but most importantly, how to be a more God-conscious and self-sacrificing human being. I loved being in his presence so much that many years later, when I was struggling to find my place in graduate school, I drove in the middle of the night from New Jersey to Rhode Island to pray fajr with him and stay at the masjid for 3 days so that I could spend time with him.

But I will always be a white kid from an all-white suburb. I learned in my early years as a Muslim that I could not be black nor pakistani no matter how much at times I wanted to fully integrate into those Muslim circles. But I learned that whiteness is like The Matrix – you don’t know you’re in it until you start to get out of it. I hope I have fulfilled Malcolm’s words that “their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude.” If not, then I have more work to do for the sake of the God who created us all, and only distinguishes us on the basis of the way we transform our inner and outer selves due to our conscious awareness of the Divine, or what in Arabic we call “taqwa.”

Many will probably think this is overly quaint, and that they are soooo over the false promise of “Islam is a universal brotherhood and sisterhood.” But I respectfully disagree. I am well aware of the overt racism of elements in the American Muslim community, and the hard collective work that needs to be done for our institutions to live up to our ideals. But as for me, I have experienced nothing as deeply transformative of American race relations like being Muslim, and I believe Islam provides more hope for transforming white American society at large than anything else. It was Islam that caused me to start hanging out on the South Side of Chicago, to visit my brothers at the Inner City Islamic Center or Masjid al-Faatir or that super hardcore masjid on like 76th or something (can’t remember the name), even though I grew up only an hour away. It was Islam that led me to sitting for hours with black men so that I could learn from their character, spirituality, and wisdom. And it was Islam that ultimately taught me about my own people – that ragtag collection of post-Europeans I call “white people” or “Whiteamericans” when I am trying to sound as smart as Dr. Jackson. We are just another people with a history, with our strengths and our weaknesses, and whom I love, just as the Prophet (upon him peace) loved his people, the Quraysh, even when they were the oppressors.

Even now, it is my brothers and sisters in Islam from all different ethnicities who share with me their passionate perspectives on race in America. This is my typical heart-on-the-sleeve white guy contribution to the conversation. I reiterate Malcolm’s hope when he wrote, “But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth – the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to.”

And I close with the words of the Islamic tradition: “All praise is due to Allah for the blessing of Islam, and sufficient is it as a blessing.”

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And who is better in speech than the one who calls to God, and does righteous deeds, and says, “I am most assuredly one of the Muslims.” (41.33)

There is a group of Muslims who claim to represent all of us. They call themselves “The Islamic State (al-dawla al-islāmīya)” and they ask us to pledge our allegiance to the person they consider their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

On this blessed day of jumu‘ah, in the blessed month of Shawwāl, in the Hijrī year of 1435, I firmly reject the pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. I do so out of fear of the Lord of the worlds, Who will ask me about what I did on this day. I do so out of love for the Messenger of Allah, upon him and his family be blessings and peace, who I long to sit with in the next life. I do so out of hope for Jannah, in which the utmost limits of my dreams reside. I do so out of my joy at being a member of the vast and diverse Ummah of Muhammad, upon him and his family be blessings and peace, which includes Sunnis and Shi’is, Sufis and Salafis. I do so out of my firm belief that the caliphs Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and ‘Ali (may Allah be well pleased with them) are more beloved to Allah than myself, and greater followers of the Messenger of Allah than I can ever hope to be, upon him and his family be blessings and peace.

And I call all humanity to study the teachings of the Messenger of Allah, upon him and his family be blessings and peace. He was sent by Allah to all of us, white and black, male and female, American and people who are citizens of other nations – without exception. All of humanity is welcome to freely accept Islam if it moves their heart, and simultaneously reject the tyranny, ignorance, and brutality that is done by those who have pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

I am prepared to meet my Lord with this statement in my book of deeds, and I ask the Eternal and Everlasting Refuge (al-Ṣamad) to accept it as one of the best of my deeds. I invoke the Protector (al-Ḥafīdh) alone to protect me and those I love. I do not need armies, nor intelligence services, nor police forces for our protection – all I need is our Lord, in whose holy Name I have written these words onto my heart. hasbunā Allāh wa ni‘ma al-wakīl.

R. David Coolidge

New York City

26th Shawwāl, 1435 AH

The moral men to say the least,
Will kill us all to get their peace.

- Imam Zaid Shakir, from the poem “The Roads to Peace”

One of the fundamental challenges that Muslims face in the 21st/15th century is the power of the nation-state, and its monopoly on violence. If the state so chooses, it can hang you or torture you. If the state so chooses, it can destroy your home. If the state so chooses, it can even shoot you by the hundreds in the street. This what keeping alive the memory of the massacre at Raba’a Square means to the Ummah of Muhammad, upon him and his family be blessings and peace.

Muslims are disproportionately targeted by nation-states in the exercise of this violence, and whenever Muslims resist that oppression, it is labelled “terrorism.” This term is no longer meaningful in any way in the public sphere, outside of the very small number of responsible academic scholars who define it clearly and apply it fairly across the globe. In light of this, Muslims need to stand up, in both the East and the West, and resist the “legal” and extra-legal means by which nation-states continue to seek new ways to kill human beings and justify it. This is a jiḥād for our era, and it is based first and foremost on the teachings of the Prophet Muḥammad (God bless him and his family and grant them peace). It is stated in a well-known historical narration about the Prophet: “A person asked the Prophet (upon him peace), when he had just put his foot in the stirrup, ‘What is the highest form of jiḥād?’ He said, ‘Speaking the truth in the presence of a tyrant ruler.'” The most common form of tyranny is the shedding of unlawful blood, which is a shared concern for all ethical and legal systems. And the greatest shedders of blood in the world are the courts, police, intelligence services and militaries of nation-states, whether the majority population of those states are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, or of a another worldview.

The prophetic teaching of “speaking the truth in the presence of a tyrant ruler” has been followed by many Muslims of knowledge and piety, such as al-Ḥabīb Muḥammad bin Sālim in Yemen, Zainab al-Ghazālī in Egypt, and the more recent example of Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi in Syria. To be absolutely clear, this article is not about armed rebellion, lest anyone misunderstand. We are talking about the efforts of individuals, communities, and civil society groups to make coordinated efforts to oppose the tyranny of the state, such as through popular demonstrations in public places. This should make it clear that we are also not talking about the imposition of a rarefied understanding of sharī‘ah (Islamic law) on an unwilling populace. “Terrorism” and “Shariah Law” have become lynchpins of contemporary political propaganda, not useful terms of political analysis.

Imam Zaid Shakir writes in response to the coup in Egypt: “the arena to be governed by the constitution, the modern nation-state, has no historical precedent in the Muslim world. Therefore, there is no historical precedent for the constitutional order that needs to be created. That being the case, new arrangements must inevitably be created. Recognizing this fact frees us from the belief that there is some sort of ancient precedence that can be neatly retrofitted for the new political condition.” The practical consequence of this insight is that sharī‘ah scholars, as masters of a textual tradition formulated outside of a nation-state context, ultimately have a limited and specific role to play as non-state actors. Those who turn to them for guidance due so as a matter of personal conscience, and as such, sharī‘ah scholars are simply one segment of a larger civil society within the context of a nation-state. They must work in tandem with others, even those of other faiths or no faith. Since there is no “ancient precedence” for current Muslim political reality, results are what matters. Curbing the state’s power to kill and maim without consequence is what is needed. If taking to the streets in protest achieves that end, then that is the strategy that should be adopted. If compiling sound data on state-sponsored atrocities brings about change, then it should be supported. The outcome is what matters most, due to the aforementioned epistemological problem of an appeal to Islamic tradition. If a nation-state is acting repressively, then the opinion of a sharī‘ah scholar about how to respond has no a priori greater weight than any other citizen, due to the fact that the sharī‘ah scholar’s professional qualification is mastery of a body of knowledge disconnected from what Imam Zaid calls the “complexities, intrigues, and traps” of contemporary political life. A seasoned activist, human rights reporter, or political blogger may in fact, under this “new political condition” have more insight into the general welfare of the nation-state than the most revered sharī‘ah scholar. This is the innovative reality of the always-changing interplay between “democracy and tradition” as powerful social forces in the contemporary world, and it scares some Muslims. However, it is the reality on-the-ground, and to ignore it is to remain lost in a fantasy of a world that no longer exists.

In the specific case of Egypt, Tariq Ramadan boldly stated a year ago that, “the central question was and remains that of freedom and democracy for the Egyptian people. What is happening today in Egypt is a travesty and a horror. The country is now at the merci of the Armed Forces; Egypt will now experience summary execution, arbitrary imprisonment, torture and lying at the highest state level.” And that is exactly what has happened. How can we remain silent when hundreds of people are sentenced to death at one time after a speedy trial with little evidence? As such, all forces of Egyptian civil society must be united against this new/old military regime, aided by concerned individuals and institutions outside Egypt. The recent report by Human Rights Watch is one example of the way in which an institution that does not make an appeal to Islamic tradition can be trusted more, when discussing a complex civil matter, than the undocumented opinions of sharī‘ah scholars. This coalition must be as broad as possible, so as to shame the state and its allies, and bring moral clarity in a confused world.

The lessons of Cairo 2013 have a universal lesson for all Muslims: if we don’t collectively demand the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest, torture, and even murder by the state, it is only a matter of time before someone decides that our blood is worth shedding for some unjust reason. This is not just about Egypt. This is relevant in the United States. The recent killings of Eric Garner in NYC, and Michael Brown in St. Louis, are examples of racialized police brutality in the American context. This is relevant in Bahrain, where systematic repression of the majority Shi’a population is widespread. This is relevant in every country in the world where the state has effectively monopolized violence and regularly chooses to inflict that violence upon innocent human beings, often using race and religion as a means to justify itself. I have chosen to highlight Egypt due to my familiarity with its political and intellectual history, and because of the absurd level of violence that the Egyptian state has been perpetrating for the last year. I encourage others to write articles highlighting the dynamics at play in other countries. Muslims need to be willing to speak out with wisdom and a concern for the sanctity of all human life, for it is the responsibility of any citizen who knows in their heart that the state cannot get away with murder. If it be God’s will that the state continues to terrorize its own people, for some wisdom that our limited minds cannot yet fathom, then at least we will be free of complicity in the state’s crime when we meet our Lord on the Last Day.

“I would rather be insecure before someone had to die for my security.”

- Imam Zaid Shakir, from the sermon “Trayvon Martin, A Sign of the End of Time”

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For Tayssir Safi – may Allah make me worthy of your love

and for Imam Zaid Shakir – may Allah grant you al-husna wa ziyada, ameen.

 

i hear claims of justice and ethics in every voice

and so i have taken it upon myself to listen

for those voices could be the voice of Khidr

and to say

to God

and to my selfish self

and to my friends and family

and to others who will hear

that we should not disbelieve in our Creator

or abandon the prayer

or abandon the fast

or drink alcohol

or talk about other people behind their backs in a manner that they would find displeasing

or leave the remembrance of God

or leave the Qur’an

or disrespect the Messenger of God, upon him and his family be blessings and peace

or disobey the Messenger of God, upon him and his family be blessings and peace

or eat unlawful meat

or eat food that will harm our spiritual state

or not be sensitive to the needs of others

or mistreat our parents

or mistreat our siblings

or mistreat our spouses

or mistreat our children

or mistreat the homeless asking for change

or forget about those who are suffering and oppressed

down the block

across town

in the woods

in Guatemala

in Egypt

in Gaza

in Pakistan

in Somalia

in Kashmir

in Chechnya

in China

in Syria

in Myanmar

in Chicago

in Oakland

in Washington D.C.

in Rio De Janeiro

in sweatshops, brothels, refugee camps, occupations, reservations, prisons, torture chambers, or even their own homes

and not forget that we have a responsibility as voters, consumers, taxpayers, givers of charity, and volunteers

to look into every moment and every word and every silence and every stillness and every action

and say “inni kuntu min al-dhalimeen [truly I am from amongst the oppressors]“

and to know that even if we become a mufti and shaykh al-tarbiya

this process will remain

and to hold fast to those who don’t just say this truth

but live it

and speak boldly from a similar realization

in order to free themselves from the Fire

because life is short and there is so much to do that we haven’t done

out of concern for all humanity, animals, earth, and sky

for the sake of clarity in a confused world

for the sake of grasping at shukr

for the sake of knowing that we are all

at every moment

in need of Allah’s Mercy

and that even if we were to become the qutb

there is still the chance that a hidden injustice

committed before we die

could cause Allah to turn away from us forever and ever

for none of us are guaranteed the Garden

and so we say

like Imam Ahmad before us

“Not yet, not yet”

and take ourselves to account

with every ounce of effort we have

striving for the maqam of mujahada and muhasaba

knowing that it will never be enough

and we will always miss something or forget something or make some mistake

and so we plunge ever deeper into the haqa’iq of raja’

which is the only thing that keeps us from dying on the spot

in the the hal of khawf

at the tajalli of al-‘Adl

Allahumma salli ‘ala sayyidina Muhammadin wa alihi wa sallim

And they say, “What is this messenger that eats food and walks in the markets? Why was there not sent down to him an angel so he would be with him a warner?” (25.7)

If you know me or have read through my posts, you know I am obsessed with the idea of where, how, and when history and transcendence meet. This is the billion dollar question in religion – who authentically speaks on behalf of God. As a Muslim, I obviously believe that the life of the Prophet Muhammad was paradigmatic, upon him and his family blessings and peace. To believe in him as a Messenger from God is central to what Islam is all about. He was not just “a historical figure” – he was a bridge between the world that is empirical, and the much more real world that is unseen. And as a Sunni, I believe that the lives of the Companions of the Prophet (may Allah be well pleased with all of them) are paradigmatic as well, although they were not infallible nor sinless. In previous posts I have reflected on the legacy of Abu Bakr, ‘Uthman, and Abu Hurayra in particular. I reiterate here what I said already: “The primary reason I am a Sunni is because I believe that Ali, ‘Uthman, Umar, and Abu Bakr were all more beloved to Allah than myself.”

But one has to bring the past into the present. I have given all of my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy to this task, and this is where I am at currently. Only God knows if I am guided or deluded, and may God save me from delusion! I believe in transparency, because if something is truly good and right, it holds up under fair scrutiny – too many false dogmas and oppressive hierarchies flourish under the rubrics of “mysteries,” “gnosis/ma’rifa,” and “secret doctrine/ta’lim.” So here is where my understanding of Islam in history meets the search for transcendence in contemporary Islam. It is a list of people, and the organizations they represent. It comes out of a recognition that religion requires leadership, and I am most interested in being a follower of a follower of a follower. This is not exhaustive by any means, nor is it meant to denigrate anyone else, nor to even say that these are the best that are out there. It it just to say that this is where my Islam moves beyond words on a computer screen and enters the real life of David Coolidge trying to follow the Prophet Muhammad (upon him peace) in 21st century America.

I openly affiliate myself with them and their organizations (such as by liking their pages on Facebook, posting videos in support, etc.), but most importantly, I give the bulk of my zakat and sadaqa to them, as a means of hoping that Allah will be pleased with me. There is nothing that quite gets to the heart of hoping in the reality of transcendence like giving your money to someone for the sake of God, and I give to the aforementioned organizations because I cannot give directly to the Prophet (upon him peace) or his representative. But I put the people’s names first because Allah does not judge organizations, which are abstractions – Allah judges flesh and blood human beings. Most assuredly, these people and the organizations they represent are not above constructive criticism, but they are people who have helped me worship my Lord in palpable ways. I ask Allah to grant them all success (tawfiq) and facilitation (taysir) in their noble work, and to count me amongst their followers, ameen. Please keep them all in your duas!

Most importantly, as the end of Ramadan looms, when our thinking is clearest and our hopes highest, my prayer is that after the struggles of this world have passed, we will all be together in Paradise by the mercy of Allah, and be granted the blessings of visiting with the Prophets of God who walked this earth, upon them peace, and their righteous followers, may Allah have mercy on them. What stories our blessed predecessors must have to tell us in the course of eternity!

Islamic Knowledge and Guidance

Zaid Shakir (Zaytuna College and Ta’leef Collective)

Abdullah bin Hamid Ali (Lamppost Productions and Zaytuna College)

 

Community Building and Da’wah

Khalid Latif (Islamic Center at New York University and Honest Chops)

Usama Canon (Ta’leef Collective)

 

Domestic Social Justice

Rami Nashashibi (Inner City Muslim Action Network)

Salim Patel (Zakat Inspired)

 

International Social Justice

Nadia Alawa (NuDay Syria)

Hatem Bazian (American Muslims for Palestine and Zaytuna College)

 

And those who came after them, saying, “Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts any resentment toward those who have believed. Our Lord, indeed You are Kind and Merciful.” (59.10)

 

āmīn yā Rabb!

Allahumma salli ‘ala sayyidina Muhammadin wa alihi wa sallim

still waiting

i am still waiting at the shore of Your sea

and You have always been

and always will be

my source of hope

The Most Merciful of those who show mercy

 

how many sins i have done!

i know You forgive all sins except one

but have You forgiven my sins

that i do not know

 

they swirl around me like frightful demons

biting and gnashing and screaming

but You are Light

and can drive them all away

evaporated instantly with Your Love

 

i need that

i need that more than anything

i need that more than the air i breath

and the water i drink

which are also Your Mercy!

 

how can i ever love and fear You as You deserve to be loved and feared?!

i am utterly incapable of reaching the rank of being anything other than Your slave, with whom You will do what You will

i have no rights except the right you grant to me out of Your Justice and Your Mercy

i am simply a beggar and a pleader, clothed in the signs of Your Grace, fed by the manifestations of Your Kindness

 

You are sovereign over every human breath, of which mine are only a drop in the ocean

one day soon, i long to meet You, al-Raḥmān bi’l-ghayb

and i only ask that until that time, You bless me to sell myself – my body and everything i have – for You alone

 

stained by sin

all I have is a drink of water to give a thirsty dog

but most importantly

hope

It is related in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace) once told a story to illustrate the importance of sincerity: “The first person judged on Resurrection Day will be a man martyred in battle. He will be brought forth, Allah will reacquaint him with His blessings upon him and the man will acknowledge them, whereupon Allah will say, ‘What have you done with them?’ to which the man will respond, ‘I fought to the death for You.’ Allah will reply, ‘You lie. You fought in order to be called a hero, and it has already been said.’ Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face and flung into the fire. Then a man will be brought forward who learned Sacred Knowledge, taught it to others, and who recited the Qur’an. Allah will remind him of His gifts to him and the man will acknowledge them, and then Allah will say, ‘What have you done with them?’ The man will answer, ‘I acquired Sacred Knowledge, taught it, and recited the Qur’an, for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You lie. You learned so as to be called a scholar, and read the Qur’an so as to be called a reciter, and it has already been said.’ Then the man will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung in the fire. Then a man will be brought forward whom Allah generously provided for, giving him various kinds of wealth, and Allah will recall to him the benefits given, and the man will acknowledge them, to which Allah will say, ‘And what have you done with them?’ The man will answer, ‘I have not left a single kind of expenditure You love to see made, except that I have spent on it for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You lie. You did it so as to be called generous, and it has already been said.’ Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire.”

This is one of the most spiritually challenging hadiths that I know of. We are presented with three archetypes of people who devote their life to religious matters in an outward fashion. One has sacrificed their life, one has sacrificed their time, and the other has sacrificed their wealth. Each of them has made an extraordinary effort, and yet they have failed to reach the desired goal. This is because while their bodies were apparently with Allah, their hearts were with people.

What does it mean to do something purely for the sake of Allah? This question is as important for all of us to ask as it is difficult to answer. In the Qu’ran it states: “Say: Surely, I am but a human being like you; it is revealed to me that your God is One God. So the one who hopes to meet his Lord must do righteous deeds and not associate anyone in the worship of their Lord.” (Sūrah al-Kahf, verse 110)

We attend the Friday prayer out of a belief that it constitutes a “righteous deed,” but our worship is not complete until it is for God alone. We could ask ourselves a variety of introspective questions: Do we pray so that we feel like a good person? To tell our parents or our spouse that we attend jumu’ah regularly? To reaffirm our Muslim identity? To see a friend, or someone that we are romantically interested in? To get a mental break from our daily schedule? Thinking about such questions helps us to understand why we do what we do. These other motives are not inherently bad; for example, there is nothing wrong with being excited about meeting up with friends at jumu’ah. But we should have a clarity in our hearts about our primary reason for attending jumu’ah, or engaging in any other communal act of worship. We must tell ourselves that we would still come to pray even if our friends chose not to.

Saying the phrase “lā ilāha ill Allāh,” whether out loud or silently, is a powerful means to increasing our sincerity. It is a sword by which we cut through the various delusions that make us think that there is anything more deserving of our attention than Allah. Are governments to be feared? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Are beautiful people to be desired? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Is money to be sought after? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Is our well-being ultimately in the hands of a doctor? lā ilāha ill Allāh. As the Qur’an states: “Say: Will you worship other than Allah that which has no power to benefit or harm you, while Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing?!” (Sūrah al-Mā’ida, verse 76)

Reflecting on this verse helps us to realize that everything we want, in this world and the next, is with Allah. This does not mean that we negate the “asbāb” (the proper means that are taken in order to attain a certain goal), such as going to a doctor in order be cured. But the doctor is not the one who cures; it is Allah who ultimately cures, by means of the doctor. And the more we realize this truth, the more we turn to Allah with sincerity, knowing that only Allah can give and take away.

We fear so many things. We fear getting cancer, we fear being harassed at the airport, we fear being alone, we fear saying the wrong thing – but it is only Allah who is truly deserving of our fear (khawf). We hope in so many things. We hope in our family, we hope in our friends, we hope in our careers, we hope in our religious leaders – but it is only Allah who is truly deserving of our hope (rajā’). If Allah is pleased with us, then there is nothing in the world to fear, and no need to hope for anything else. Allah has said, “Behold! Truly, on the friends of Allah there shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (10.62)

This is an exalted level, and it is to this height that we are climbing. We must strive for righteous deeds, we must try to manifest sincerity, we must turn to Allah alone and ask for every noble quality. Along the way, we will begin to discover what little control we have over our own lives. Each step on the path will lead us further and further into Allah’s embrace, and further and further away from our own selves and our attachment to this world. We will begin to understand why we say, when someone passes away, innā li’llāhi wa innā ilayhi rājiʿun (to God we belong and to Him we are returning). We will willingly embrace the reality of our life and our inevitable death. And as we progress, we will begin to see that when we thought in the past that we had been sincere, we were actually far from sincerity. There is no fooling the One who knows every secret we have ever hid from others, and even the secrets we try to hide from our own selves.

As is stated in a well-known ḥadīth, Allah does not look at our outward forms. In our spiritual path, it ultimately does not matter whether we are a male or a female, an Arab or an ʿajam (non-Arab), well-dressed or simply attired. What matters is the state of our hearts, which is known as “amīr al-badan,” the commander of the body, and the actions that reflect the states of our hearts. And since even impressive outward actions, such as those mentioned at the beginning, are no guarantee that one is on the straight path, we must get real with our selves in the presence of our Lord. In many instances, sincerity simply means that we admit to ourselves that which Allah already knows. It is only after we see ourselves more clearly that we can walk more sincerely towards Allah. If I look within, and see doubt, then at the very least I can ask Allah to strengthen my faith. If I look within and see a desire to sin, then at the very least I can ask Allah to fill my heart with repentance. If I look within, and see a desire to be praised by people, then at the very least I can ask Allah for the inspiration to worship Him alone. But if I am veiled from the realities of my own soul, from what is actually going on inside me, then I am lost. I might end up doing the outward actions of the people of Paradise, but have a heart that is leading me to the Fire. May Allah save all of us, and our loved ones, from such a fate, āmīn.

“To God belongs everything that is in the heavens and everything that is on the earth. Whether you disclose what is in yourselves or hide it, God will call it to account. And He will forgive whomsoever He wills and punish whomsoever He wills, and God is powerful over all things.” (Sūrah al-Baqara, verse 284)

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