Rise Above - Part 2 of 2

Part 2

The way Quraysh were behaving with Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was their way of limiting him to two options: either he ﷺ should forget about the spreading the Message and accept comfort and wealth, or he ﷺ would have to become a rebel and renegade. This was the limited view of the world they were attempting to impose on him.

What did he ﷺ do? Had his purpose merely revolved around the Quraysh and resisting their evil, he and the 70 strong men with him could have simply cut off the trade routes, thereby destroying the livelihood of the Quraysh and bringing them to their knees. At least one Companion actually suggested doing this. In the political, social and geographical context of that time, this was the most obvious and easy way to bring a complete halt to the aggression of the Quraysh, had this been the goal of the Messenger ﷺ.

But this was not his ﷺ goal. He did not react to their aggression. He ﷺ transcended the aggression, oppression, and injustice of his fellow human beings. And by this stance, he called us to do the same.

The Prophet ﷺ kept working on the Quraysh and on the Muslims, hoping that the Quraysh would see the fruits of faith and God-consciousness in his followers, and want to be like them. And in the end, this hope was blessed by God with actualization: in the end, the Quraysh DID see the fruits of faith and God-consciousness in the followers of the Messenger of God ﷺ.

The Apostle of God ﷺ insisted at the time of migration (Hijra) that the Muslims return every single one of the items the Quraysh had left in trust in their safekeeping, and this included money belonging to Abu Jahl. The Prophet ﷺ could have just kept that money to use for as long as he ﷺ had need of it. But that is not how the Prophet ﷺ operated. This insistence on returning people’s trusts to them is just one of the examples of the Prophet’s concern with doing things right, doing things with integrity, even towards those who show us enmity, who persecute us, who murder our kith and kin. The early Muslims were persecuted, tortured, and lost their kith and kin at the hands of the Quraysh, but it never stopped their leader ﷺ from keeping his eyes on his mission: to bring faith to each and every heart, including the hearts of the oppressors.

We all know this historical reality of how the Prophet ﷺ acted, but we don’t really think about what it means. In our own lives, if someone shows us the slightest disrespect, we forget any thought of that person’s well-being and any concern about how to behave with them on the highest level of good manners. We don’t care at all about their hearts, so we don’t place guidance for them as our number one priority. We allow ourselves to sink to the lowest possible levels and we feel this is our right – our right to be outraged, indignant, and angry. We even like to back up our behaviour by saying it is our duty to fight oppressors, as if our rudeness and social media arguments were the good fight.

Imagine what it meant to carefully and honourably return the items belonging to those who were trying to destroy Islam, and who had personally tortured, insulted and murdered your kinsmen; let alone the smear campaign they had launched and the murder plot against the Prophet himself. Put yourself there, put yourself in the actual shoes of the Companions at that time. The key – the secret to honourable action – is the orientation: knowing without any doubt that the reality is not out there in the exterior confrontation with one’s human opponents, but inside - in the personal inner landscape where it is a battle between the ego and its thirst for vengeance, and the soul and its thirst for God’s Pleasure Alone. The best victory is to live up to what God has called us to, out of our deep desire to win His Pleasure. And what He has called us to is nothing other than the highest level of integrity and magnanimity in all moments, never forgetting that He – The Most High – is watching, and that He, the Most High, will deal to each person what they deserve.

We have to see the migration itself in this light – it was not to get away from the Quraysh and their aggression, not to escape - but rather to continue working on them – this time through establishing a community that would be a shining expression of what it means to be Muslim. A community whose every action would be an iteration of the Message and an invitation to it. This was the city that would manifest the light of la ilaha il Allah Muhammad Rasul Allah ﷺ, that would pulsate and breathe the Truth in all aspects of its daily existence. Thus the migration was not just a horizontal move, it was a transcendence.

And it succeeded.

The Quraysh continued to come to Madinah and become Muslim because they saw in the example of Madinah everything that was nobler and better and more wholesome and sustainable than their own way of life, than their own society, than their own values and beliefs. They saw hope. They saw salvation from the game of opposites they had been trapped in. They saw the alternative and the way out of the oppression they were locked into by their culture and their society. The oppressor, too, needs liberation.

We, the Muslims of this age, living in countries in which we are the minority, we look very similar to the Children of Israel in Egypt before the coming of Prophet Moses. Many of us believe we have a choice - and most of us are making this choice on a daily basis: Either we play the game and run after a comfortable material life, assimilation, acceptance, big cars and houses, mortgages and bills that take us beyond our means and always beyond our needs; in other words: we seek the material good of this world in selfish pursuit of short-lived gratification and never-ending consumerism


we enter into another kind of trap: which is to be in continuous conflict with the circumstances we are in, fighting over scraps of short-lived material victory, feeling refused and rejected, constantly threatened by our surroundings, perceiving ourselves as under attack, reacting to the slightest questioning as a victim would, becoming defensive and playing the blame game, always aware and so busy being on the lookout for that which we feel constitutes an insult that we never have time to orient ourselves heavenward.

Especially following recent events, it is easy and may be legitimate to observe that our faith is being depicted unfairly, that the media is picking on us, conspiring to create a consensus in the minds of our fellow citizens against us, insisting on ignoring our own voices about what our faith is in favour of painting a picture of us that is not us – and using this to pass laws that burden the rest of the population with costs of more security, less privacy, and so on. Is there a concerted effort to malign Muslims and Islam? Is there a deliberate disregard for the correct information? Are there double standards at play? Yes.

But if we look at what the Prophetic example offers us, we recognize that we don’t have to engage with this situation on the same playing field as it is being offered to us. We CAN rise above. Malcolm X, when he was with the Nation of Islam, was reacting to the reality of his society, joining the game on the same playing field laid out by the powers that be in his society. When he became Muslim, he transcended this reality and gained a totally new vantage point, and from this place of elevation, he invited his fellow men to build a true alternative, one that went beyond the polemics of leaders around him.

We’ve got to transcend our situation. And be true Muslims – by which I mean: connected to the last Revelation.

Be a source of barakah (blessing) in this country –“mubarakaan ayna ma kuntu” (blessed wherever I am!) – be part of the solution.

Who better than us to bring remedies to a society that has reached a point at which cynicism about any possibility of an ideal society has crowded out all hope. A society in which it is so hard to be altruistic, to aspire to values, to carve out a space where it’s admirable to be moral. Who better than a person of God to bring the messages of morality, chastity, the importance of family – not as dogma, not as our culture that we want accommodated, but as meaningful solutions to the ills we are all suffering in this society.

Who better than recipients of the Final Divine Revelation to be the champions of the sanctity of human life, of ethics in all domains (science, business, politics, education, and even war). For example, we could have shared with the world our belief that it is not ethical to bomb people under any circumstances (for to do so is to burn people), instead of being people who brag about the nuclear weapons we have and who has more. We could have been the people who stood up against nuclear armament as a matter of religious ethics!

We could have been a group who advocates against genetic modification, because it is corrupting the creation of God. We could have similarly been the champions of organic food, of ethically-raised meat, of sustainable farming.

Islam is the rahmah that can save humans from themselves and transform and heal both oppressor and oppressed – if we can become the Madinah, people will see in us the fruits of this faith and the beauty and light they are missing.

We have the answers to the exact problems that plague humanity today, and yet we are silent and still, wrestling demons without taking sustenance from spiritual teachings. We are not standing up to fight the good fight. We lack any actual moral engagement that needs to be undertaken. We have become a people of words, and no deep soul action.

We could have been telling the oppressors: don’t oppress the weak; and showing the weak the way to liberation and freedom, through transcendence.

Where are we in the call to principles of justice, honour, altruism, which are at the heart of this faith? We only speak up when it is Muslims who we see being harmed. We are limiting ourselves severely in this way. We are showing ourselves to be tribal and selfish – to have the very same double standard we critique in others…if we show that we don’t care what happens to First Nations Peoples in this country, and around the world, or Rwandans recovering from a horrific genocide, or Ebola victims if they are not Muslim, or whoever is suffering in this world, then we have lost our moral leadership in this world.

This religion was meant to be a rahmah for ALL humanity. If humanity just sees us at the mercy of the game, reacting and playing along in one way or another, not offering mercy in the form of a new mode of existence, they cannot respect us. Thus, we are the roots of all these problems. Instead of going to the symptoms and making a fuss, we need to go to the roots. I know that you all know that Islam was meant as a rahmah for all humanity, but does it show in our daily actions? Do we pray daily for humans around the world who are suffering? Do we in any way demonstrate that we are the carriers of blessings to all of humanity, that we feel responsible for the well-being of all – does anyone in our society feel, when they see a Muslim, “oh, thank God, here is a Muslim. I feel safe now” or “you know, I just feel this inner peace when I’m around them” or “they really offer a wonderful alternative to the stressful life I have”?

People are not stupid. They pick up on the slightest deviation from your stated goals. They can tell when you talk a lot about humbleness and spiritual orientation, but you are the community who is known for the high consumption rates of food in Ramadan. When Muslims are the ones with massive homes, while claiming to be a community of moderation. They know of our extravagant weddings. When we claim that our religion is characterized by modesty, but we look like we are just following the rules but not the spirit of modesty. Or when we talk about love and care and we only love and care for ourselves. When we talk about religion but do not really have any joy in what we do for God.

They can detect that there is a disconnect between what we say we are, and how we really live. Anyone knows what a person who is truly detached from worldly concerns looks like, how that person speaks, what matters to that person. We claim to walk a spiritual path, but we are less spiritual than a Buddhist or anyone who practices meditation – because we don’t really practice the spiritual routines of our Prophet ﷺ. People can see through the claims we make: all they have to do is consider how they feel when they are in our presence.

It is time to start to embody Islam in the way that the Companions did in Madinah. This is our migration – from a life that has a label of “Muslim” stuck on it, without any embroidery of dhikr and mindfulness of God running through it, without the necessary integrity to hold it up, to becoming creatures who drink daily of the unconditional love and mercy of God, and pass it out to others who are thirsty for it. Make this your new year’s resolution and ask God to help you.

Rise Above - Part 1 of 2

Transcript of Shaykh Hamdi’s Sermon on ‘Ashura 2014

It is remarkable how our predecessors made sacrifices for our sake. They were not selfish. Every generation stands on the shoulders of those generations that came before it, we are able to rise because of those who made sacrifices. We owe it to them to be grateful for what they did, to reflect upon this, and to thank God for them.

Our Master Husayn, may the light of God continue to nourish his soul and our connection to him, showed us what it means to gain victory when it looks to your enemy as if he has overcome you. To gain victory without the material appearance of victory. He  allowed people around him, and generations to come, all of humanity, the chance to understand what it means to lead from behind, to lead without being the “official leader,” and to lead without holding worldly posts and positions that have titles.

He showed us that victory is in having integrity with God, being true to one’s values and being the more honourable one, even when you are wronged and oppressed. He showed us that one does not struggle for temporary achievement of rights or respect from one’s oppressor, but rather, one struggles in order that there be a model for all the world of what sincerity looks like.

If, those centuries ago, our Master Husayn  had decided to stay in his home, saying to himself, “I have faith, I have love of God, I have a relationship of truth with my Lord and this is sufficient,” and not gone out with 72 members of his Family – the Family of the Messenger of God  – history would have been different.

We would have been different. Perhaps Islam would have become just a game, and there would have been a sense of absurdity about it. Knowledge would have been buried, and truth would not have been made apparent. But the Saint-Sage Husayn did stand up, he stood for the truth. He showed his generation and those to come that there is something called TRUTH and that religion is not a game.

It is due to the blessing of that stance that there are still people serious about faith, seekers of truth.

If Prophet Abraham had just stayed home and said: “I know the Creator and I worship Him,” and stopped at that, there would not have been monotheists after him. Likewise, if Prophet Moses had stayed in Egypt and not stood in strength and perseverance in the face of the Pharaoh, the miracle and truth of God would not have had the opportunity to manifest in the parting of the Red Sea.

And had Prophet Muhammad ﷺ not made the migration (Hijra), to establish the glimmering jewel of the first community, we would not have had a model for all the world of what a truly just and beautiful society looks like, we would not have had this star that still shines and guides our hearts, long after its physical presence has passed. At Badr, the Messenger of God ﷺ said of the blessed people who made up that first community: if this group is destroyed, then the mission will be ended. So important, so vital was their living expression of faith, that we would not be Muslim today had the Companions of the Prophet not survived Badr.

I want to draw your attention to the common denominator in all these examples of Prophets and upright people who stood for the truth. The common denominator is that they transcended the circumstances which were brought about by those in power. And they resisted the pressure put on them by those in power to become something other than their true selves.

They transcended not only the box that those in power were trying to put them in, but they transcended the very trap of trying to fight against that box.

They did this by becoming what GOD wanted them to be, at which point they possessed a deep consciousness of who they were, which has a greater effect than mere self-confidence.

Listen to the story of the Jews in Egypt, and see if you can recognize it. Before the Sage Prophet Moses was sent to them, the Jewish people were treated as the lowest of the low in Egypt. They were the entertainers, their women were the playthings of the Pharaohs, and their youth were the delinquents who filled the prisons due to their often violent outbursts. These outbursts were their reaction to their plight – and included assassination attempts against the Pharaohs.

The Jews were a very humiliated and downtrodden community and the people of Egypt got used to seeing them in this mould. The good people of Egypt, even those who were fair, could no longer see in this miserable Jewish community the beauty of its ancestor – Prophet Joseph, a beloved figure to all Egyptians regardless of faith or race. The Jewish community had become so downtrodden and disconnected from their Source that no longer could anyone recognize them as being the grandchildren of this beautiful and noble Prophet and builder of their nation. Because the Jewish People no longer carried their own heritage of beauty, grace and nobility, they had stopped being representatives of their ancestors. As a result, they had nothing to offer to their fellow human beings.

When Prophet Moses came to the Jewish People, he taught them how to transcend their miserable state and return to their true selves: to take up their rightful mantle as heirs of the Prophets. He brought an agenda to change their condition. He brought them out of the state of being objects, to being subjects: agents of positive change. He taught them to rise above their circumstances, rise above their oppressors, and not merely lash out and react to them. Prophet Moses did not go create militias to resist the Pharaohs and destroy their peace, nor did he sit about with his fellow Jews, discussing all that was wrong with the Pharaohs, nor did he inspire his people to fight harder against their oppressors. Instead, he taught the Children of Israel  to BE Children of Israel .

Prophet Moses taught the Children of Israel that to stop being hurt themselves, they had to stop harming others, stop reacting, stop lashing out. Transcendence of one’s reality does not come about through resistance to it, but through connection to something outside of it completely, a rope to pull oneself up by, out of the morass one is in….Transcendence comes when you are no longer tossed about by the storms that surround you, but fly high above them. Transcendence occurs only through connection to the One Who is the Most High. It only comes when we hold to the rope of the Revelation – the Rope of God that He has offered us as our means of being rescued from this lower world and its zero sum game.

Instead of dealing with the situation of the Jews on a horizontal plane, Prophet Musa  re-established the vertical axis, a completely different pathway upon which to operate, a link that enabled his People to transcend and win the only victory that matters – the eternal victory, the Victory in the Sight of God, by gaining the moral upper hand, and taking the spiritual high road.

Others in the same community, due to their existence solely on the horizontal axis, were in one of two situations: either fighting the situation in a confrontational manner that involved regular clashes, or assimilating into the majority and going along with an unjust system.

When Prophet Moses connected his People along the vertical axis, it gave his people access to higher virtues, higher standards of operating, an entirely new set of means to deal with the circumstances. He offered them a view from on high that allowed them a much greater vision and perspective. Now they could look upon their oppressors with mercy and even feel sorry for them.

Granted fresh vision and a more encompassing sense of peace, they started to think of how they could help the society, improve it, rather than just take revenge on their oppressors. Prophet Moses modelled this for them in how he spoke to Pharaoh – with rahma (love), gentleness, and great politeness, as God Himself commanded Moses to do.

With the transformation brought about by Prophet Moses, the Jews went from being seen as part of the problem in Egyptian society, to being part of the solution.

This all came about as a result of transcending and rising ABOVE. God said to Prophet Musa : “fear not, for you are above!”

When you react to oppression, you perpetuate the very game you are critical of, because you accept to play along in a sequence of moves – action and reaction – initiated by those who set up the game in the first place. What is needed is to stop the game. To stand up and see that true reality is much larger than this game-board. That the actual “rules” by which we should operate are not those within this game - a game that is not even of our own making. When you do this, when you rise above, you help the others in the game – you help the one who is oppressing you as well, because you show him there is more to this existence than this zero-sum game. You show him that winning can be for all. And you do this once you know, as you must know, that God is telling you: “fear not, for you are above!”

In the worldly realm, you may be broken and traumatized by the pain of oppression and the very real harm it causes. But the only way to break free of this situation and defeat your oppressors truly is through spiritual liberation, knowing that God is on your side and you are something with Him, and you are seeking Him, not anything else.

Our Need for a Sacred Space

The meaning of masjid is: a place, time, or person that assists one to make sujoodSujood means effacement in the Presence of our Lord. In its physical form, we literally place our faces to the ground in the position of prostration, a reflection of the dissolving of mind, body, and heart in God.

You can feel it when a place helps you towards this state of being.

Of course, we know that God’s healing grace can and must be experienced anywhere and everywhere in our lives: in nature; at the workplace; in our bedrooms, living rooms, and dining rooms; even in our cars. But a big part of our tradition is consecrating specific places and times, as well as relationships, for God and God Alone. Consecration means that nothing else goes on in that relationship, time of day, or physical space BUT the pure remembrance of God.

When we dedicate specific places, times, relationships and actions to God Alone, the mind - often our biggest challenge when it comes to prayerful connection - becomes trained to respond to this clear intentionality by responding with focus. And focus is a gift.

As a result, these places, times, and relationships begin to provide us what we refer to as khushu’ – the undistracted awareness of the Presence of God, a deep and life-changing awareness of our connection to our Source and Creator.

Today, I meet many people who complain they don’t have this feeling of connection in their prayers. Could the reason be that we are not taking the time to consecrate specific places and times in our lives for the purpose of connection? That the only places we ever pray in are places we also use for a variety of other activities? Perhaps the time we give to connecting merges too quickly into our distracted time – for example, we check our phones as soon as we are finished the movements of the Salah (the daily meditational prayer), so that this time that should be ceremoniously entered and exited doesn’t really stand distinct from other times?

It is so important for certain matters to stand out from the rest of life. It is for this reason that the scholars say it is not liked for a believer to wear the cloths of Hajj and Umrah (the Ihram) outside of Hajj and Umrah: this way of dressing is to be kept solely for the sacred purpose of pilgrimage, its meaning not to be dulled or diluted.

When it’s hard to find focus and concentration in our actions for God, we are in need of consecration.  We need sacred spaces that assist us to make let go and let God’s presence infuse our beings. We need sujood. WE need spaces where we can get permission to not check our phones, where we are encouraged to leave our worldly concerns at the door and just dive into an ocean of connection and peace. To remember God, we need to willingly ‘forget’ for a moment our phones, our messages, our to-do lists. God does not ask us to do this for a whole day; just for a few moments each day, so as to rise above the neverending daily challenges and see that He is there with us in all of that. It’s like walking along a path where you have to keep your eyes on the ground because the surface is uneven and you don’t want to trip - but getting the chance to look up every now and then to appreciate the beautiful surroundings you are in, to let your vision be bathed in the blue of the sky, to take a big deep breath. And then return renewed to your walking and concentrating on getting where you must be.

Understanding of the role and mission of the masjid (the House of God, the Place of Sujood) has an impact on how we design, perceive, maintain and behave in our masjid spaces. The space should be beautiful inside and outside, it should help us to contemplate and praise God in silence, and should allow us to feel no demands other than to be present. I hope you will feel this way about the Rhoda Masjid.

The Rhoda is a place where you can come anytime for silent meditation, reading Quran, talking to God. Weekdays are especially good for this. On Fridays, join us for congregational worship at midday, and stay a little longer to talk to your Lord in your own voice. The Rhoda is also a place for sacred relationships for the sake of God Alone: on Saturdays we gather in joy to remember our relationship with the Prophet, may the light of God continue to nourish his soul and our connection to him, and strengthen the relationships amongst ourselves as believers as we eat and serve together at our community potluck.

Come to the Rhoda with the intention of consecration and see how focus, connection, and elevation become the fruits you take home with you to nourish you on your journey of life.

God bless you,

Shaykh Hamdi Ben Aissa