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اللهم صل على سيدنا محمد و آله و سلم

27th Ramaḍān, 1436 AH

Indeed, We sent [the Qur’ān] down during the Night of Decree.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree?
The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months.
The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter.
Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.

I have never met an angel, never felt an angel’s presence, nor do I think I truly understand their importance – but I believe in them nonetheless, because Allah and the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) have informed me of their existence.

Those who lived in the Prophetic era didn’t see them in their angelic forms either – even though Muhammad’s prophethood was predicated on his claim that he was regularly meeting with the archangel Gabriel (Jibrīl) – so I don’t take my not seeing them as a bad sign. As the Qur’ān states:

“O you who believe, remember Allah‘s favor to you, when the forces (of the disbelievers) came upon you, and We sent upon them a wind, and the forces (of angels) you did not see. Allah is watchful of whatever you do.” (Qur’ān, 33.9)

Contrast that with verses where they are seen by normal human beings:

“Those who do not fear to meet Us say, ‘Why are the angels not sent down to us?’ or ‘Why can we not see our Lord?’ They are too proud of themselves and too insolent. There will be no good news for the guilty on the Day they see the angels. The angels will say, ‘You cannot cross the forbidden barrier,’ and We shall turn to the deeds they have done and scatter them like dust.” (21.23)

So I recognize that not seeing them is a test of faith, however much that must enrage the pure materialist. There is no empirical means to access the angelic realm – at no point in human history will a brilliant PhD from Oxford discover a mathematical proof for the existence of angels that leads a research team with billions of dollars in funding to develop a piece of technology that allows humans to observe angels at work. Such a storyline might work in Hollywood, but it is impossible in the real world. But as the Qur’an states,

“…If you could only see the wicked in their death agonies, as the angels stretch out their hands [to them], saying, ‘Give up your souls. Today you will be repaid with a humiliating punishment for saying false things about God and for arrogantly rejecting His revelations.’” (6.93)

So maybe the skeptical mind should not be too quick to see an angel – they might not like what they see staring back at them.

The inclusion of belief in angels in the following verse, which has been a personal source of guidance for many years, is enough to prove their importance to me:

“Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards East or West. The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travellers and beggars, and to liberate those in bondage; those who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God.” (Qur’ān 2.177)

God has mentioned the angels along with other obvious fundamentals of sound faith and righteous action, and so we do not deny them. But how can we get a better understanding of angels?

Perhaps we can reflect on two verses of the Qur’ān:

“Say [Prophet], ‘If anyone is an enemy of Gabriel – who by God’s leave brought down the Quran to your heart confirming previous scriptures as a guide and good news for the faithful – if anyone is an enemy of God, His angels and His messengers, of Gabriel and Michael, then God is certainly the enemy of such disbelievers.'” (2.97-8)

God speaks of the enemies of the angels. Some scholarly commentaries on the Qur’ān mention incidents that happened in the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), but let us first explore some general meanings. First, to actively disbelieve in the angels likely means to be their enemy. Secondly, to deny the role that they have played in the revelations from God to humanity is likely to take them as an enemy. Thirdly, to interpret them away as some force of nature, and not as the created beings whom God has named quite explicitly as Gabriel and Michael (Mīkāl) is more likely to take them as enemies. Lastly, to believe that the angel is your enemy is to take them as an enemy, which was actually the story behind the verse. There were people in the Prophetic era who considered Gabriel to be their enemy. The following story is related in the classical Qur’an commentary Asbāb al-Nuzūl by al-Wāḥidī (d. 1075):

“The Jews came to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and said: ‘O Abu’l-Qasim! We would like to ask you about a few things; we shall follow you if you answer them. Who, among the angels, comes to you? For there is not a single prophet except that an angel comes to him with a message and revelation from his Lord, glorified and majestic, so who is the angel who comes to you?’ He said: ‘it is Gabriel’. They said: ‘That is the one who comes down with war and fighting. He is our enemy. If you had said: Michael, who comes down with rain and mercy, we would have followed you’.”

Angels were part of the beliefs of the followers of Moses (upon him peace) and Jesus (upon him peace), and they show up repeatedly in the Bible. Islam affirmed that general teaching, but also clarified various misconceptions. For example, in Islam, there is no concept of a “Fallen Angel,” for angels by their very nature cannot disobey God. And just as angels supported previous prophets, such as the angels that rescued the Prophet Lot (upon him peace) from Sodom and Gomorrah, so too did angels play an important role in the mission of Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him and his family). For example, they fought with the Muslims at the Battle of Badr:

“God helped you at Badr when you were very weak. Be mindful of God, so that you may be grateful. Remember when you said to the believers, ‘Will you be satisfied if your Lord reinforces you by sending down three thousand angels? Well, if you are steadfast and mindful of God, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand swooping angels if the enemy should suddenly attack you!’ and God arranged it so.” (3.123-5)

Importantly, there is no indication that angelic support has been removed from the Islamic community, so many centuries later. Our natural spiritual desire is to want knowledge about angelic support that we can rely upon. So when we look at the narrations from the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), we see various situations when the angels come to help and pray for those who believe in them:

  1. Seeking beneficial knowledge
  2. Sitting and waiting for prayer while in a state of ritual purity
  3. Fasting while others are eating nearby
  4. Visiting those who are sick
  5. Making du’a for someone who is absent
  6. Gathering to remember Allah

The reality is that the angels are there to support and comfort us on the path towards the Truth. Struggling for the sake of what is right can often feel like a lonely road, but if one remembers that the angels surround the person struggling for good, then one finds a sense of tranquility. The following verses reminds us of the angels’ concern for us:

“Those [angels] who carry the Throne and those around it exalt [Allah] with praise of their Lord and believe in Him and ask forgiveness for those who have believed: ‘Our Lord, You have encompassed all things in mercy and knowledge, so forgive those who have repented and followed Your way and protect them from the punishment of Hellfire. Our Lord, admit them to gardens of perpetual residence which You have promised them and whoever was righteous among their fathers, their spouses and their offspring. Indeed, it is You Who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. And protect them from the evil consequences [of their deeds]. And he whom You protect from evil consequences that Day – You will have given him mercy. And that is the great attainment.'” (40.7-9)

Angels are Allah’s creation, and they obey the command of their Lord. And yet, the angels would seem like “demigods” to the masses of humanity. Their power and influence in the world, the reported nature of their size and appearance – all of these, if truly grasped, strike awe in the heart of the human being. People worship, serve and sacrifice to imaginary beings that are far less majestic than angels, and yet it is a remarkable testimony to the Muslim understanding of monotheism (tawḥīd) that we never consider angels as anything other than God’s loyal servants. There are some in human history who have worshipped the angels, believing that their immense power means that they have the inherent power to benefit or harm us. But the reality is that they do only what they are commanded. They have no inherent power, but rather all power and might and glory belongs to Allah alone, Who is the Creator of the angels. When we remember that, we feel the brotherhood of creation with the angels. They are different from us, and yet we serve the same Master.

The recitation of the Qur’ān reminds us of the centrality of the angels, for it is Gabriel “who by God’s leave brought down the Quran to [Muhammad’s] heart confirming previous scriptures as a guide and good news for the faithful.” We believe that the Angel Gabriel came in Ramadan to review the Qur’an with the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), acting not simply as medium of revelation, but also a teacher.

“The Prophet was the most generous of all the people, and he used to become more generous in Ramadan when Gabriel met him. Gabriel used to meet him every night during Ramadan to revise the Qur’an with him. Allah’s Messenger then used to be more generous than a free flowing wind.”

When the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) was absorbed in the Qur’ān, the delights of this world were nothing and could be easily given away as an additional act of worship. This is profound, especially when we remember that another fundamental act of worship tied to the prophetic reality, the salawat, also leads us to the same realization. As the Qur’ān states:

“Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O you that believe! Send blessings on him, and salute him with all respect.” (33.56)

After that, we send blessings upon the Prophet, and in turn the angels ask for blessings on us, as the hadith states:

“There is no person who sends blessings on me, but the angels send blessings on him so long as he sends blessings on me. So let a person do a little of that or a lot.”

It is a cycle of blessing, and another manifestation of the mercy of Allah that is built into the world. The Messenger is mercy, and recitation of the Qur’ān and sending salawat increases us in that connection with mercy!

Even though we have not met the angels face to face in this world, we will meet them in the next life without a doubt. There are many different angels that Allah and His Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) have informed us about, but perhaps the most important to mention at the end of this writing are the two angels who will meet us at our end: Munkar and Nakīr. Both Sunnī and Shi‘ī theologians state that everyone who dies is questioned in their grave by these two angels. It is reported that they ask three questions:

Who is your Lord?

What is your religion?

What do you say about the messenger that was sent to you?

So in closing, I remind myself and anyone who reads this to should remember these three questions whenever we hear talk of angels, and think about how we will respond to these questions when Munkar and Nakīr come to meet us in our graves. If our lives are filled with faith and good deeds, we hope that Allah will give us to the strength to sincerely reply:

Allah is my Lord (Allāhu rabbī)

Islam is my religion (al-Islāmu dīnī)

Muhammad is my Prophet! (Muhammadun nabīyī)

اللهم صل على سيدنا محمد و آله و سلم

a9bc80b2e0ec993c278397da666fef1a

In Ramadan

In Ramadan

I feel it more

It burns me

I don’t want travel

nor adventures

nor books

nor experiences

– if I wanted the dunya, I would have taken it! –

I want You

I want the One for whom this whole thing matters

without You

this is nothing more than the play of history

“And We did not create the heaven and earth and that between them in play.”

Abbasids, Mu’tazilis, Khalidi Naqshbandis

Fez, Qum, Lucknow

Just words on a page

Empty words

But You

You who Exist

You who Are

You

There is no me without You

I did not create myself

“And he presents for Us an example and forgets his [own] creation. He says, ‘Who will give life to bones while they are disintegrated?’ Say, ‘He will give them life who produced them the first time; and He is, of all creation, Knowing.'”

So of what use to me is anything of this world

if it does not lead me back to You

just as the Beauty of the Worshippers said:

“let us taste the sweetness of Your affection and nearness

allow us to struggle in You

preoccupy us with obeying You

and purify our intentions in devoting works to You

for we exist through You and belong to You

and we have no one to mediate with You but You!”

الله الله الله

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem

May Allah send blessings and peace upon the Messenger of Allah and his family

I have always been wary of eschatology. Even before I was a religious person, I used to talk to religious people regularly. People just say crazy stuff when they start talking about the “end of times.”

But I need to move beyond that, because Islam has a rather detailed eschatological tradition. So this Ramadan, I decided to use some of my limited free time to try to understand the current discourse about the Mahdi, who plays a central role in Muslim beliefs about the future of humanity. For those who don’t know who the Mahdi is, he is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family, who will “fill the world with justice, just as it had once been filled with injustice.”

I did this “study” for two reasons. One, because there is a lot of talk about the Mahdi these days, as Muslims try to make sense out of the fighting in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, which often pits Sunnis against Shi’is . Two, because it is a belief that is shared by both Sunnis and Shi’is, even though they differ on its details. To be clear, only the beliefs of the “Twelver Shi’is” are discussed herein, due to their dominant role in contemporary Shi’i discourse globally. But in addition to these more exoteric reasons, I also want to know what the “right” belief is about the Mahdi. At the end of the day, a belief is either true or false, ontologically speaking. As a Muslim, for example, I affirm the existence of a place I have never seen called “al-Nar (the Fire),” which in English we usually call Hell. It is spoken about vividly in the Qur’an, as well as the Sunni and Shi’i hadith literature. Denying its existence takes one out of the fold of Islam, according to both Sunni and Shi’i theological traditions, and so I affirm its existence. It is, for all intents and purposes, part of the warp and woof of Islam. Growing up, I did not believe in Hell, and in fact it was a joke. But as I have grown spiritually, by Allah’s grace, I have understood the necessity of taking it very very seriously.

I now want to take beliefs about the Mahdi seriously too. When I was studying Sunni theology based on traditional texts explained by living scholars, I avoided asking questions about the Mahdi. To be honest, I didn’t want to ask because I knew that I would have taken their answers with a grain of salt, even though I had a great respect for them in general. Why? Because one cannot talk about the Mahdi properly without a comparative analysis of Sunni and Shi’i traditions, as well as an awareness of the role the Mahdi plays in contemporary socio-political realities. It is all highly politicized, and always has been. Discussions about the Mahdi are not about the next world, for they go straight to our current existential concerns. What is going to happen in the coming decades? What sort of world will my children live in? What is the deeper meaning behind all of this strife? The Muslims in the early generations asked these questions too, such as Muhktar al-Thaqafi, who launched a rebellion against the Umayyads in the name of the Mahdi.

Muslims talk about the Mahdi because he is the earthly fulfillment of our desire for a leader like the Prophet, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family. When the Prophet ruled in the 7th/1st century, the Muslims were united. When the Prophet ruled, he established justice that was beyond doubt. When the Prophet ruled, the enemies of Islam were in retreat. When the Prophet ruled, spirituality and politics – and thus the inner and outer life of human beings – were one holistic reality. The Ummah of Muhammad is united in affirming that the Beloved of God will never return to this earthly realm. Instead, one of the descendants of his daughter Fatima al-Zahra will unite this broken Ummah, bring justice back in a way that cannot be questioned, and fulfill the Muslims’ yearning for a true representative of God on Earth. The Ummah differs on the details of his rule, but this shared notion of the Mahdi is enough for us to realize that he will be a charismatic presence unlike anything any of us has ever witnessed.

I deliberately chose not to do a historical analysis of the Mahdi doctrines. People like myself, trained in Euro-American historiographical traditions, tend to think that we have properly understood an idea if we can describe its historical genesis. But I think that is a misguided approach when we come to the Mahdi. For the Mahdi is a doctrine that is vigorously upheld in both Sunni and Shi’i theology, even to the point where a well-known Salafi scholar like Yasir Qadhi and a well-known Shi’i scholar like Ja’far Subhani maintain that it is a belief that is established through tawatur (narrated by so many chains of transmission, such that it is impossible that it was forged). By making this claim, these scholars are saying that this is a belief that cannot be doubted in its essentials, although its details may be debateable.

The reason this is important to point out is because the Mahdi is not mentioned directly in the Qur’an, although there may be some verses that implicitly refer to the Mahdi, as argued by Shi’i scholar Sayyid Sulayman Hasan. It is only discussed in the hadith literature, and the Sunnis and Shi’is have different books of hadith to which they refer. But by having both Sunni and Shi’i scholars claim that belief in Mahdi is established by tawatur, it means that it is still a well-established belief in Islamic theology even though it is not mentioned in the Qur’an. As such, what concerns us is not a modernist attempt to engage in a source-critical study with the goal of removing the Mahdi from Islamic theology, but rather an attempt to make sense out of it given our current existential reality.

I cannot speak for the whole Ummah of Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family. I am simply one human trying to make sense out of the past, present, and future. But the concept of the Mahdi effects all of us. Put simply, he is expected to be one of the greatest political and military leaders of all time. His rule will effect everyone on the planet, as dramatically demonstrated by traditionalist Sunni scholar Ibrahim Osi-Efa. Popular Shi’i lecturer Dr. Sayed Ammar Nakhshawani highlights that his implementation of justice will be so profound it will even attract Buddhists and atheists who are concerned about social justice. As he puts it, “they will be allowed to join the army of the Mahdi.”

Which leads me to my first observation about contemporary Mahdi discourse. Yasir Qadhi and Salafi scholar Salman al-Oadah, both of whom received their religious education in Saudi Arabia, downplay the miraculous nature of the Mahdi. They stress that he is simply a human like other humans, whom Allah has chosen to play a specific role in the unfolding of history. While this is technically true – no one claims that the Mahdi is not a human being – it is also obscures the world-changing personality of the Mahdi. Napoleon, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great will not compare to the Mahdi in terms of the political and military impact he has on human history. He will also unite the Muslims politically under one banner, something that hasn’t happened for over 1000 years. Given that, one cannot adequately imagine the charisma that he will possess, by Allah’s permission. Yes, he will be a human being like other human beings. But that is like saying that I am a basketball player, and LeBron James is a basketball player. On the one hand, it is a factual statement. But given the context, it is a complete obfuscation. Iranian Ayatollah Wahid Khorasani’s remarks (here and here) on the exalted spiritual nature of the Mahdi hint at our inability to comprehend the Mahdi, obviously speaking within a very distinctly Shi’i theological context.

Which leads to a second observation. The Mahdi in Shi’i discourse, as laid out by Jassim Hussain, not only leads the Muslims against their opponents, but also rights the wrongs internal to the Muslim community. In the supplications related from the Mahdi in Shi’i hadith literature, one finds numerous references to his role in re-establishing that which was lost over time in the early Islamic polity, as the political leadership of the Ummah failed to maintain spiritual legitimacy in the eyes of many Muslims. This makes sense when one remembers the enormous persecution of the descendants of Fatima under the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. In short, in order for the Ummah to apply justice without, it must have justice within. I found no mention of that in any Sunni source I consulted, despite one article by Turkish Sunni academic Zeki Saritoprak that focused on how the idea of the Mahdi brings hope to those suffering from injustice. If the Mahdi is supposed to establish justice, and if Sunnis believe that the Mahdi will begin his leadership from the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, does it not make sense that the first injustices he would redress are those committed by the monarchs who control Makkah? Perhaps the geo-political rivalry between Iran and the GCC means that Sunnis don’t want to connect the idea of the Mahdi to internal injustices of the Ummah, because it will give added political strength to oppressed Shi’i populations in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the one non-Sunni in the GCC, Sultan Qaboos of Oman (who is an Ibadi), receives high praise from Nakshawani for making a country where Shi’is can attend religious functions without fear. Due to his implementation of justice, Qaboos may be interested in being part of the army of the Mahdi, and one can only assume that Nakshawani is thereby implying that the other GCC monarchs would feel rather differently.

But perhaps wariness of talking about internal injustices in Muslim-majority countries also stems from bad memories of the false Mahdi who actually did take over the Sacred Mosque in Makkah in 1979, Juhayman’s brother-in-law. Yasir Qadhi opens his talk on the Mahdi with discussing the significance of this event. Both Sunni and Shi’i scholars affirm that there have been many other false Mahdis in recent times, such as the Mahdi of SudanIbn Khaldun’s discussion of the Mahdi affirms that this was an issue in the pre-modern past as well. But I found none that reached the point of denying the reality of the Mahdi simply because it has been misused many times. In Shi’i contexts, there is also a concern about abusing the idea of being the representative the Mahdi, given that it is believed that he is currently alive and exerting spiritual influence over his hundreds of millions of followers in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, UK, USA, and elsewhere. Ayatollah Khomeini addresses this issue while commenting on a hadith about hypocrisy. There is also currently a man in Iraq who claims to be a messenger from the Mahdi and the eschatological figure known as “al-Yamani,” and has his own low-budget TV shows to spread his teachings. So the struggle to define the Mahdi is an ongoing phenomenon that has very real political ramifications. Yale historian Abbas Amanat shows how the conception of the Mahdi within today’s socio-political environment has a lot to do with changing natures of clerical authority in Shi’ism after the Iranian Revolution.

After reviewing everything I did, I cannot say with any clarity what I believe about the Mahdi, other than that I do not deny him. It is clear to me that the concept of the Mahdi is always, and always will be, tied to the politics of the time. I do not deny that current events seem poised for the emergence of the Mahdi, as Osi-Efa argues, and as many Shi’is believe very deeply. But I also understand how it made a lot of sense to think the Mahdi would emerge in political contexts such as the Abbasid caliphate, as is well documented in Jassim Hussain’s text. This is always the challenge of eschatology – when are the signs actually there, and when are people reading way too much into current events? Nakhshawani’s first lecture in his series on the Mahdi is the only source that I consulted which very forthrightly discussed the serious methodological challenges of interpreting current events in light of scripture.

And when we say “scripture,” we have to be clear that we are talking about the Sunni and Shi’i hadith literature. These texts form the basis for the theological discourse about the Mahdi in both Sunni and Shi’i theology. And I am not an expert in either set of texts, and so am unable to comment on the chains of narrators mentioned by Qadhi, or Osi-Efa, or the classical Shi’i scholar al-Mufid is his Kitab al-Irshad, or anywhere else. I have tried to understand the Mahdi as a living expression of the faith of Islam, and the hope of Muslims for justice to be manifest both between rival Muslim communities and between Muslims and the rest of humanity. This is a discussion that is real and vibrant in the minds of many Muslims today, and so a discussion of the chains of transmission only get us so far. I would urge those whose scholarly capabilities are far greater than my own to do a comparative analysis of the chains of transmission about the Mahdi. But such a study would require a person who had studied under both Sunni and Shi’i masters of ‘ilm al-rijal (the science of narrators), and unfortunately I am unaware of anyone in the world who has that qualification, although I may be mistaken.

What Muslims should be wary of are those who simply make up things, like Imran Hosein. He claims a special ability to read the signs, both in the scripture and in world events, but a lot of what he says makes very little sense and he changes his ideas when they turn out to be false, such as revising his view that Gog and Magog was the Soviet Union when that obviously turned out to be not true. There are religious leaders in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism who essentially lose their minds focusing on eschatology, and I have been studying them since I was in high school. I find it totally fascinating, while also a bit sad. Not one of them turns out to be right, and they misled their small group of followers into wasting their lives worrying about nuclear war and other such things. Imran Hosein seems to me like a classical example of that. I have enormous respect for great scholars who are using their knowledge to face the intense political challenges of our time, such as Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi and Ayatollah Sistani. Imran Hosein is certainly not of their caliber, and I am sure there are others likes him out there who will waste your valuable time.

We should not treat the Mahdi like it is a fairy tale. Muslims need to be able to talk about the Mahdi with people of other worldviews. As Sayyid Sulayman Hasan states in his lecture, the verse of the Qur’an, “It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion, although they who associate others with Allah dislike it” (9.33) can be interpreted as referring to the Mahdi. For the Prophet Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family, only conquered a small portion of the world. In many respects, the Mahdi can be understood as the one who finishes the job and completes the prophecy. Right wing commentators have picked up on this, and this is also one of the reasons Israel and the United States are so wary of Iran, which is the nation state where belief in the Mahdi is the most widespread. The idea of the Mahdi is inherently politically threatening to those who do not hold Muslim beliefs. Nakshawani goes a long way in thinking along these lines, and whether one is Sunni or Shi’i, I suggest taking seriously what he has to say. Why? Because we cannot talk about justice and the Mahdi separately. As the hadith I quoted at the beginning affirms, the whole point of the Mahdi is justice (‘adl), and justice is a universal aspiration, not something that only Muslims care about.

Perhaps better than any source, the significance of the Mahdi in our world can be summed up in the fact that he was mentioned in the United Nations by former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And while a Muslim may not agree with his specific beliefs about the Mahdi (in particular, his use of the word “perfect”), what he says applies generally to the concept of the Mahdi in both Sunni and Shi’i theological traditions. What really made him unique was not so much the specific details of his beliefs, but that he had the audacity to state these beliefs publicly on the proverbial world stage. Of course, he was mocked for doing so, but at least he didn’t pretend that the Mahdi wasn’t a big deal when he said:

“The Almighty and Merciful God, who is the Creator of the universe, is also its Lord and Ruler. Justice is His command. He commands His creatures to support one another in good, virtue and piety, and not in decadence and corruption. He commands His creatures to enjoin one another to righteousness and virtue and not to sin and transgression. All Divine prophets from the Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) to the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him), to the Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), to the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), have all called humanity to monotheism, justice, brotherhood, love and compassion. Is it not possible to build a better world based on monotheism, justice, love and respect for the rights of human beings, and thereby transform animosities into friendship? I emphatically declare that today’s world, more than ever before, longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity; and above all longs for the perfect righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet. O, Almighty God, all men and women are Your creatures and You have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by You, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause.”

I have no idea if the Mahdi will come in my lifetime or not, or in my son’s lifetime. But this intellectual and spiritual journey has made me more serious about looking at history as part of a process whose architect is the Divine. For many years, I have focused on the past (like any good Princeton graduate student in Islamic Studies is trained to do). Learning all of this has made me think about the future. As long as I live, I am sure I will continue to reflect on these questions, and I ask al-Haqq (the Truth) to “show me the true as true and bless me to follow it, and show me the false as false and bless me to avoid it.” I was willing to affirm the Prophethood of a man I have never met who lived in 7th century Arabia, may peace and blessings be upon him. So I hope I have no unwillingness to follow whoever may be his true representative, with Allah’s help. As such, may I be counted as a follower of the Mahdi, whoever he may be, whether I live to see him or die before he comes, because he represents the authority of my Prophet, his forefather, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family, ameen.

imam-mehdi

today

as i walked in the park

my son in his stroller

it was as if the entire universe

let out a deep sigh

for Husayn

 

to the eye

people laughed and joked

ate their lunch

or kissed their lover

unaware that the entire canvas

upon which their lives were painted

was weaved with

ya Husayn

 

one of my most learned teachers whispered to me once

that ibn ‘arabi was in the greenery of al-andalus

if that is true

then the whole cosmos screams

ya Husayn

 

the historian looks at pious narrations

or ancient volumes written by systematizing minds

maybe even secondary literature that flows from barren hearts

but for me

there is a moment in the park

when Husayn’s final breath

was more real than me

or my son

or anyone else

May 5th, 2015

“So let humanity look at their food…” (80.24)

I had a simple breakfast: a piece of toast with cream cheese and honey, a banana, and a cup of coffee with milk. But the story of my meal spans two continents.

The bread – a basic white bread produced by Whole Foods – is made primarily from wheat. I don’t know where the wheat comes from, perhaps the Midwest. But God made it: “How we poured down water in torrents, then we broke open the earth, splitting it [with sprouts], and caused to grow within it grain.” (80:25-27)

The cream cheese – a small tub of Philadelphia brand – is made primarily from milk. I don’t know where the milk is from, perhaps from the East Coast. But again, God made it: “Do they not see that We have created for them from what Our hands made, grazing livestock, and they are their owners? And We have tamed them for them, so some of them they ride, and some of them they eat. And for them therein are other benefits and drinks, so will they not be grateful?” (36:71-73)

The honey is from Montauk, the town farthest out on the tip of Long Island. Guess who made it? That’s right – God. “And your Lord inspired the bee, saying, ‘Build yourselves houses in the mountains and trees and what people construct. Then feed on all kinds of fruit and follow the ways made easy for you by your Lord.’ From their bellies comes a drink of different colours in which there is healing for people. There truly is a sign in this for those who think.” (16:68-69)

Assuming all of that was from North America, let us turn to Central and South America, where the production of commodities for consumption by North America has had a profound effect of the structure of society. Equal Exchange, the company from which I bought the coffee beans, recounts the history of coffee production in Guatemala in no uncertain terms. Drinking coffee from Guatemala in New York City reminds one of the verse of Qur’an: “God presents the example of a town that was secure and at ease, with provisions coming to it abundantly from all places. Then it became ungrateful for God’s blessings, so God afflicted it with the garment of famine and fear, for what its people had done.” (16:112)

Next to Ecuador, where my banana was from. Ecuador produces more bananas than anywhere else in the world. Most are produced on large plantations, but I ate one that comes from a small cooperative also connected to Equal Exchange. In English we have coined the term “Banana Republic” to refer to a country whose political system has been manipulated by American fruit corporations (Dole, Del Monte, etc.). The more that workers on massive banana plantations want fair wages, the higher prices that Walmart has to pay for the millions of bananas it purchases, which means less profit for shareholders. So companies do what they can to keep production costs down.

I hope that my coffee, bananas, and honey have no injustice in them. The story is often told of how Imam al-Nawawi (d. 1277) would not eat the fruits of Damascus because he was worried that the land on which they were grown was perhaps acquired or cultivated improperly. I have tried to follow his lead. But I don’t know where the wheat or milk I consumed was made. Perhaps the wheat was grown on land stolen from Native Americans through a broken treaty. Perhaps the cows that produced the milk I drank were kept in terrible conditions. It is things like this that make me fear God, for God is Just (al-‘Adl). He could ask me about it, and what would be my response? “I was too busy to look into it,” doesn’t seem like a good response to prepare for the Last Day. My breakfast was a lot fancier than many of the breakfasts of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him and his family. If anyone deserved a nice breakfast, it was him. And yet, God reminded him, “Then you will be asked that Day about the pleasures you enjoyed.” (102.8)

May God allow us to be more just in our usage of that which He has granted us, and may He forgive us for the evil we perpetuate in the world, and may He increase us in awareness of the myriad blessings that He bestows upon us every day, ameen.

People talk way too much about what they are against, or about what people shouldn’t do. That strikes me as a weird way to be, whether from a secular or religious perspective. Life is short, so it seems better to make the most of what we are given. With that in mind, here is my list of the top 20 things to do before we die!

  1. Read the Qur’an
  2. Read the biography of the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him and his family
  3. Pray 5 times a day
  4. Fast Ramadan
  5. Pay Zakat
  6. Make Hajj
  7. Say Subhan Allah regularly
  8. Say Alhamdulillah regularly
  9. Say La ilaha ill Allah regularly
  10. Say Allahu akbar regularly
  11. Say salawat on the Prophet and his family regularly, blessings and peace upon them
  12. Make istighfar regularly
  13. Pray some extra prayers
  14. Fast some extra fasts
  15. Give some sadaqa
  16. Make umrah
  17. Do something nice for your parents, grandparents, children, aunts/uncles, siblings, cousins, and nieces/nephews
  18. Do something you have to do and know to be right, even if it is hard and causes you pain in the process
  19. Make regular du’a for people you will never meet and never benefit from in this life (all the citizens of El Salvador, for example)
  20. Ask God to make you from those who are sincere (mukhlisun), and to accept whatever you did of #1-19 by means of Divine Mercy.

wadi-us-salaam-5[2]

On Ziyara

I have been blessed to make ziyara to the graves of many righteous Muslims. Ziyara is an act of worship which both Sunni and Shi’i ‘ulama agree brings spiritual benefit and openings. The only dissenters are people like ISIS, who instead of asking God to bless them in the presence of the righteous, would prefer to detonate explosives.

I have visited the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), as well as the first three caliphs who are also buried in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. But I have yet to visit the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib, in Najaf, Iraq. It is my firm intention, relying upon Allah, to make ziyara to him.

In a time when men with guns openly proclaim their intention to destroy the tomb of Ali, as well as to massacre Muslims who believe in the efficacy of doing ziyara to him, this post is a public act of defiance. I have changed the pictures on this blog and on my related Twitter account to continuously remind me of Najaf until the time comes when Allah blesses me to walk upon its soil.

Ali ibn Abi Talib is unanimously agreed upon by both Sunni and Shi’i ‘ulama to be one of the denizens of Paradise, and an example to be followed. They agree that the Prophet said about him, “Whoever has me as his master, then so too is Ali his master,” although they differ on the interpretation of its meaning. From Ali come the spiritual lineages of all the Sufi communities except one. And so he is not a divisive figure, as some would have it. He is a actually a centralizing figure whose depth is so great that from him hundreds of millions draw inspiration, guidance, and spiritual unveiling.

So the ziyara to Najaf is the heritage of the entire Ummah of Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family. And at a time when there are people who want to completely destroy this heritage, it is important to state so boldly and loudly.

May Allah accept this from me, count it amongst the righteous deeds I have done for His sake, bring benefit to humanity through it, correct my mistakes, forgive my sins, and guide me to the path of righteous, ameen.

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