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.