Saturday, October 9, 2010

Muslims in hostile world - Part 2: How should Muslims handle it

[This is part 2 of a sermon I gave in September to a local mosque.  Part 1 was posted before on this blog]
A primer on anger management and conflict resolution, the Quranic way

The tough times we face should teach many other lessons as well.  Lessons that have always been spelled out in the Quran, but that many of us may have not felt the need to put them to good use frequently.

Hate against Muslims is abundant, vocal and malicious. It may even make life impossible in the US for some of us. Hate comes in many forms and for many reasons: sometimes just out of ignorance and fear, and that is something we can help resolve.  In other cases, it is out of greed, and out of envy: and that is not easy to resolve.

But either way, God has given us clear instructions and examples in the Quran on how to handle these situations. If we like to use modern day jargon, He offers us “a comprehensive anger management and conflict resolution program”.  And it is a pretty good one.

So, let us take a look at what God has for us on that topic.

When the words of God are insulted, what should we do?
“And, indeed, He has enjoined upon you in this divine writ that whenever you hear people deny the truth of God's messages and mock at them, you shall avoid their company until they begin to talk of other things.” (4:140)
وَقَدْ نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الْكِتَابِ أَنْ إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ آيَاتِ اللّهِ يُكَفَرُ بِهَا وَيُسْتَهْزَأُ بِهَا فَلاَ تَقْعُدُواْ مَعَهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُواْ فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ
 “Whenever you meet those that indulge in [blasphemous] talk about Our messages, turn your back upon them until they begin to talk of other things …”  (6:68)
وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ يَخُوضُونَ فِي آيَاتِنَا فَأَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُواْ فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ
And what should we do next? Should we respond to an insult with an insult? Would the “eye-for-an-eye” approach be useful? Should we say something nasty about something dear to them, be it their beliefs, or what they may worship and associate in worship with God?
God does not seem to like that approach.  He instructs us succinctly (in 6:108) not to revile “those [beings] whom they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance.”
وَلاَ تَسُبُّواْ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ فَيَسُبُّواْ اللّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ كَذَلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ
And even non-insulting arguments with those who hate us, insult God and insult us, has to be done in a special way: actually, in the most kind of ways.
And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner - unless it is the ones that are bent on evildoing - and say [to them]: "We believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon you: for our God and your God is one and the same..." (29:46)
وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ وَقُولُوا آمَنَّا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَأُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَإِلَهُنَا وَإِلَهُكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
So, they insult us and yet we MUST respond by trying to show them what may make us and them feel closer rather than highlight what sets us apart from them.
But that gentle soul approach is not always guaranteed to work, and God was aware of that when he asked us to use it.  He even tells us why it does not work in some case:
كَذَلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ
“…to EVERY nation”, God informs us, “We have made their own doings appear goodly indeed”. (6:108)
But that is not for us to resolve, as God proceeds in that verse (in 6:108) to tell us that “In time, unto their Sustainer they must return: and then He will make them [truly] understand all that they were doing.”
So, we were meant to be different from one another,
God tells us in 22:67, “UNTO every community have We appointed [different] ways of worship and belief, which they ought to observe.”
This is part of His plan for Mankind, not a design flaw.  And if we cannot convince the others to follow our way, we still need to learn to live and let live; to coexist in a diverse and often contentious world.
He informs us in 25:63 that the best of us are those that handle this diversity and contention without arrogance, or aggression
وَعِبَادُ الرَّحْمَنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا
For, [true] servants of the Most Gracious are [only] they who walk gently on earth, and who, whenever the foolish address them, reply with [words of] peace;
Our job is not to force them to believe one way or the other, but in the words of the Quran, our job is
“… to convey this Qur'an [to the world].  Whoever, therefore, chooses to follow the right path, follows it but for his own good; and if any wills to go astray, say [unto him]: "I am only a warner!"(27:92)
وَأَنْ أَتْلُوَ الْقُرْآنَ فَمَنِ اهْتَدَى فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَقُلْ إِنَّمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُنذِرِينَ
So, we should not get broken-hearted when they opt not to do it our way.  They have turned away from better person than you or I will ever be: they turned away from our Prophet, pbuh. And God showed him how to handle that:
“…if they turn away, say: "God is enough for me! There is no deity save Him. In Him I have placed my trust...” (9:129)
فَإِن تَوَلَّوْاْ فَقُلْ حَسْبِيَ اللّهُ لا إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ عَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ وَهُوَ رَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْعَظِيمِ
But handling rejection and hatred is not easy.  Still, God has drawn a clear line, and expects us not to cross it ,: no excuses accepted, as detailed in this verse:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ لِلّهِ شُهَدَاء بِالْقِسْطِ وَلاَ يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَى أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ اعْدِلُواْ هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ إِنَّ اللّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
“O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious.” (5:8)
God also is the One that created us, and he knows we are tempted to ‘repay injustice with injustice’, so He makes us an offer that is hard to resist:
وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ وَنَهَى النَّفْسَ عَنِ الْهَوَى - فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَى
“But unto him who shall have stood in owe of his Sustainer's Presence, and held back his inner self from base desires”, (in our case: greed, anger, vengefulness amongst others), “… Paradise will truly be the final destination!” (79:40-41)
And we need more than just to avoid being unfair towards them.  God tells us to show them ultimate kindness, using the Arabic word ‘berr’, the extreme kindness we are supposed to treat our parent with.
لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
“As for the unbelievers that do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and do not drive you away from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably.” (60:9)
And for the really evil ones: should we pay them in kind, or punish them if we can? Should we forgive?
Look at what God asks our Prophet to do, under a more adverse situation that ours:
وَلاَ تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَىَ خَآئِنَةٍ مِّنْهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً مِّنْهُمُ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
“… and from all but a few of them you will always experience treachery. But pardon them, and forbear: verily, God loves the doers of good. (5:13)
In another verse, the divine wisdom teaches us that forgiveness is not a tactical ploy, but rather a strategy of a very high yield in the end:
وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ
“But [since] good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou [evil) with something that is better - and lo! he between whom and yourself was hostility [may then become] as though he had [always] been close [to you], a true friend!” (41:34)
Above all, we should always remember the verse 7:199 that has been described as the most comprehensive and most succinct of Islamic moral code- crafted in just seven short words in Arabic.
خُذِ الْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْجَاهِلِينَ
MAKE due allowance for man's nature, and enjoin the doing of what is widely known to be right; and leave alone all those who choose to remain ignorant."
I hope that I have managed to deliver few points about the Glorious Quran and its timeless teachings that can help us today as much as it helps the Prophet pbuh, and his companions over 1400 years ago.
Our primary goal as Muslims is to learn God’s words.  And who is better at teaching us those than God Himself in an easy to understand and clear Book that he promised to preserve from deviation, and corruption, and to make easy for us to learn.
وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ
“Hence, indeed, We made this Qur'an easy to understand and easy to bear in mind: who, then, is willing to take it to heart?” (54:40)
This book is not only easy, but it also details the message of what he wants from us.
وَلَقَدْ جِئْنَاهُم بِكِتَابٍ فَصَّلْنَاهُ عَلَى عِلْمٍ هُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
“For, indeed, We did convey unto them a divine writ which We clearly, and wisely, spelled out - a guidance and a grace unto people who will believe." (7:52)
  All we need is to invest the time in reading and contemplating it, trusting that it is sufficient to guide us to the right path.
Referring to the Verses of the Quran, God says: 
“These are the signs of God which We recite unto thee (Muhammad) with truth. Then in what fact, after God and His signs, will they believe?” (45:6)
تِلْكَ آيَاتُ اللَّهِ نَتْلُوهَا عَلَيْكَ بِالْحَقِّ فَبِأَيِّ حَدِيثٍ بَعْدَ اللَّهِ وَآيَاتِهِ يُؤْمِنُونَ
I would like to conclude on a joyous note. 

Look at us:  living in a non-Muslim country, a small minority, with little material power.  Yet we are entitled, by law, to be treatment as equals, and we do not have to accept anything less. A minority with little outreach and with difficulty engaging the public at large: yet, God avails to us people in the media and amongst the public, of different faiths, and sometime of no faith at all, that would take our cause to heart, and defend us as if we where their own people.

We should thank God for those blessings.  But, we should also promise ourselves, that whenever and wherever the tide turns in our favor, we should treat the others the best way they treated us and no less
In fact, if we heed God’s teachings, we should treat them better than they treated us:
“… when you are greeted with a greeting, answer with an even better greeting, or [at least] with the like thereof. Verily, God keeps count indeed of all things.” (4:86)
وَإِذَا حُيِّيْتُم بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّواْ بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا
Let us not be of those defrauders that He threatened with woes on the Day of Judgment
وَيْلٌ لِّلْمُطَفِّفِينَ - الَّذِينَ إِذَا اكْتَالُواْ عَلَى النَّاسِ يَسْتَوْفُونَ -  وَإِذَا كَالُوهُمْ أَو وَّزَنُوهُمْ يُخْسِرُونَ - أَلَا يَظُنُّ أُولَئِكَ أَنَّهُم مَّبْعُوثُونَ
“WOE UNTO THOSE that deal in fraud-
Those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full
But when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due!
Do they not know that they will be raised from the dead, and that they will be called to account?” (83:1-4)
May God guide us all to the right path.


Part 1 of this sermon:


  1. I heard a khutba the other day and the whole thing was about Muslims being discriminated against, CAIR discrimination stats, Islamaphobia, etc etc. And although I understand that we need to openly acknowledge discrimination, I was just sick of hearing it over and over again. Why don't we talk about the millions of Americans who support Muslims and Islam despite being constantly bombarded with negative portrayals of Muslims in the media. That's pretty amazing that after everything-- all the fatwas they hear about on the news, all the ridiculous gender biased court cases and laws that come out of Gulf states, claims that homosexuality doesn't exist in certain countries (*cough*Iran*cough*), bombings left and right, etc they still manage to keep a level head and realize that our manics are no different than theirs and that the media tends to sensationalize. We can go on and on about how Muslims are discriminated against but I don't get why we act like it's such a shocker. It's just our turn. Every minority gets their turn. Ours will pass. So rather than acting like this is a surprise and that we are the only minority to be discriminated against, we need to just acknowledge that it should have been expected. I think it makes it much easier to deal with. You can fight the ignorance with kindness, understanding and education and retain a bit of hope, rather than a fatalistic view of our fate in this country. Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, Jews, women, gays, Asians- most of them (not all) have gotten over that "hump" and have come a long way since. We just haven't gotten over the hump yet. It's just about timing.