Monthly Archives: November 2009

Many Happy Returns 2009

Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown – 28 Nov 2009

Eid means return. It is a season of celebration that returns the same time every year. We celebrate the gift of faith, the security and warmth of family, the bounty and undeserved generosity of God in general. Its our thanksgiving day.

It is also a time for review. To audit our progress in the life of faith within the gaze of Allah. To assess our bearings and check our compass direction. Are we on target? Are we keeping the faith and remaining faithful to our purposes? Where need be, we recalibrate, re-energise and step up the momentum in positive, constructive and purposeful trajectories.

The Prophet Mohammed mentioned that there would always be a group that remains true and unswerved by the obstacles in the path of life. He praised them as the “strangers” when he said this way of ours began as a stranger in the world and will return at the end of time just as it began; unrecognisable, even to its own people. “So joy to the strangers,” he said.

The stranger here is someone who is not diverted from right action by ethnic or national affiliations. He or she is unashamed to stand out, to choose a direction other than that of the herd. Intelligent enough to identify what is loyal to faith and in the best interest of human society; and courageous enough to stand by it, even when others may be silent.

The stranger – praised by the Prophet – is organic, holistic and grounded in the natural earth of timeless principles that have maintained equilibrium in the human body mind and soul. Fairness and justice are the state of affairs attained when all systems are in balance and equilibrium. In this lies the mission of the stranger: as impartial observer he is counsellor and well-wisher to all parties. In the timelessness of his logic and fairness of his judgement, he is familiar to every man.

This stranger in the world has two callings vis-à-vis his neighbour in humanity. He is a healer and a teacher. This is the relationship of the Muslim to the world. Healing is to bring balance to the systems of a body when they have fallen towards the displacement of entropy. That ever-present chaos that waits to pounce upon the un-vigilant. Where there is a rupture or a fracture, the healer brings about closure, repair and rectification of wounds.

The Quran is an eternal guide for the Muslim. From it he imbibes wisdom and insight, as well as universal principles for wholesome action. The Quran speaks of itself as containing a healing for all things. The example for the Muslim is the Prophet Mohammed, who was described by his wife as the Quran walking. He was a physician of hearts and always sought to bring well-being to the rifts that transpire between human relationships.

In his capacity as teacher, he seeks to illuminate hearts and minds. The condition for this is to be oneself a person of illumination and learning, a person of consciousness and conscientiousness. This is achieved through mentoring and keeping the company of masters. Illumination is an organic process that involves book learning and lecturing but is not limited to it. It is experiential, it expands beyond the classroom, and is a sagacity built on applied experience. The Quran continually returns to a theme of movement from darkness to light.

On this Eid holiday we revisit the identity and calling of the Muslim. He is not a follower but a leader, always looking towards the best interest of his neighbours and family, reminding all to pursue positive and sustainable directions. He is a catalyst to bring people together and reminds them to keep their eyes on the prize of the big picture.

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Friday Sermon: The Rights & Responsibilities of Brotherhood Pt. 4: Inclusivity

The Rights & Responsibilities of Brotherhood Pt. 4: Inclusivity

Friday Sermon – Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown – 20 Nov 2009

In this sermon Sheikh Jihad continues the rights and responsibilities series and reflects on the verse “And the believing men and believing women are allies to one another.” He emphasises the requirement of the community to move towards an inclusive nature towards others as opposed to exclusive.

To listen online:

To download: Sermon – Brotherhood pt. 4 – Inclusivity (Mp3 | Approx. Running Time: 32 mins)

A Spiritual Analysis of Extremism

Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown – 21 Nov 2009

There is a culture clash. That much we should acknowledge. Synthetically managed plastic pop stars singing about private matters is not a necessary intrusion. Revealing enough to make your grandmother blush is not exactly the preferred role model for our children. But just like the young boy forced to undress in the locker room in front of others, we become habituated. And just like the neighbours of a landfill site, we become used to the smell. Contemporary school curricula insist on co-ed swimming lessons as if the two were logically inseparable. Disney movies whose subtexts are preaching rebellion against elders and tradition become the superscript of the new modernity.

I continue to be amused by the analysis of pundits on extremism. From the complex to the superficial, everyone insists on beating around the obvious. “They hate our freedom” – please. No one is thinking about your freedom. People have lives to live. But when those lives get violently or offensively disrupted, people start to get ticked off. Westerners need to stop thinking they are celebrities living out pop-modern lives for us on a stage for all their eastern fans to wish they were them.

These eastern cultures have been dyed through and through by the spiritual and moral vision of Islam for 14 centuries. Everyone is offended by these intrusions, only the responses differ in accordance with the constitution of the character. The majority are polite; etiquette is a highly prized quality in Islam. Some are trusting. They trust that modernisation and development are inextricably linked to these intrusions; these invasions of privacy and property. We know, however, that is far from the case.

In fact there are three primary causes of offense: the culture clash, which leads to that irritating culture rash; the political hubris of avaricious foreign policy which leads people with an acutely refined sense of fairness to believe that right and wrong have been abused with arrogant abandon; and the perception on the part of many that their own political authorities are not pursuing or defending the best interests of their own people.

Responses to indignation range from the passive to the extreme. The extreme, even violent response comes when the offence turns to spite (hiqd) and hatred (bughd); both are blameworthy illnesses of the heart. A Muslim is not “driven” by anger. Awful things happen when anger and hatred become the “drivers”.

The non-violent response fluctuates on a scale between assertiveness and weakness. The preparedness to go against the grain and take initiative to treat a breakdown in the status quo fluctuates in accordance with what a person stands to lose. As a person moves toward the end of scale of having too much to lose for making an unpopular observation, he becomes prey to avarice (hirs) and greed (tama). These are also illnesses of the heart. Such a person will never be a healer, always a drain on the life-fluids of the social order.

At the other end, for a person without much to lose, it is easier to have a clear conscience and a pure heart. With an illuminated and polished heart he is able to be a healer. With a balanced spiritual constitution his response to social ills is constructive, positive, valuable. He sees that where need be, the application of sufficient force must be governed by the rule of law; and only to the extent that it can prevent harm. He knows that vigilantism is forbidden in Islam.

Having something or nothing to lose is an ascetic state of mind, and not a tangible, physical, quantifiable or mundane condition.

Sheikh Jihad delivers the Friday khutba in Abu Dhabi. Audio recordings can be found on this blog. He also teaches, please refer to the “Classes” tab above for more information.

Friday Sermon – The Rights and Responsibilities of Brotherhood Pt. 3: The Poison of Hatred

The Rights and Responsibilities of Brotherhood Pt. 3: The Poison of Hatred

Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown – Friday Sermon – 13 Nov ’09

In this Friday sermon Sheikh Jihad explores the understanding of anger and hate within Islam, and the idea of channeling these two powerful human emotions towards that which is worthy and not blameworthy. Sheikh Jihad discusses the Prophetic stances on dealing with anger and the need of Muslims today to deal with it in a way that does not contradict the blessings God has placed upon us.

Listen online here:

Download the sermon here (Mp3 | Approx running time: 42 mins)

Right-Wing Professor Goes Postal on Diversity

Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown – 14 November 2009

The NYU Stern School’s professor of business, Tunku Varadarajan, is trying to be clever. But watching the Hoover Institution’s own version of Michael Steele falling flat on his face would be entertaining if it wasn’t so potentially dangerous to the well-being of both visible minorities and American principles.

Writing in his regular column in Forbes on Monday, in reference to the Fort Hood shooting spree last week, he invented a new reference for the old phrase “going postal”. He suggested we should now refer to employees who snap, bring weapons to work, and fire them on their colleagues as “going Muslim”. Not only does it not have the same resonance as the old standard, but the reasoning is so awkward that it leaves everyone at the party standing in utter silence looking at the uncomfortable professor who has just put his foot in it. Bad form.

Interestingly, an Orlando man opened fire on co-workers at an architectural firm on that Friday. In the hours that followed, two other US soldiers turned their weapons on fellow soldiers at military bases elsewhere in the country. Given what we know from the past seven years, the pattern of soldier-on-soldier crime, as well as workplace violence in the US seems to be broader than the individuals involved.

His logic starts to break down as he proceeds to undermine his own argument. “The difference between ‘going postal’ and ‘going Muslim’ in the sense that I suggest,” is not a psychological snap but a “calculated discarding of the camouflage of integration.” So what he really wants, is to resuscitate the old neocon-cum-Fox News insinuation that all Muslims are potential sleeper cells awaiting activation. His xenophobic premises don’t add up to his “postal” conclusions.

“We are a civilised society,” he says. When Varadarajan uses the word “we” here, things start to get real weird for me. Our society is also premised, at least on paper, on giving all minorities a chance. We are all – except for the small minority that our forebears “went postal on” – a nation of immigrants. But Varadarajan warns us not to allow the bugbear of “political correctness” to prevent us from singling out the “hundreds of thousands of Muslims in our midst” for special treatment. Will the next step be to suspect all Latinos as being potential Mara Salvatrucha?

The sad thing here Professor, is that your students, “in the hundreds of thousands,” need to be able to look up to you as a mentor and a leader. They need to be able to rely on your belief in fairness and unbiased reasoning.

In a flourish of anthropological reductionism he sums up 1,400 years of Islamic civilisation as “a religion founded on bellicose conquest”. For analysis to be relevant, even valid, it has to start out with dispassionate observation. Varadarajan fails on all points.

He goes on to advise the US Army – the most successfully integrated institution in America – on how they should run their policies, without looking at the institution’s history and experience with race and minorities. These men have a great deal of experience in best practice on this issue, let’s leave it to them.

Furthermore, indigenous American Muslims are not going to take lightly the insinuation of Islam as “an immigrant religion”, foreign to American culture. Mr Varadarajan, stick around with us a bit longer and you’ll learn just how robust and vibrant the American fabric of diversity can be.

At the same time, I think we’re safe in our assumption that we should be able to expect a little better from Forbes, and a little more responsibility from NYU.

Shaykh Jihad teaches & delivers the Friday sermon in Abu Dhabi. For more information please refer to the “Classes” tab above.

This Endless Cycle of Violence Serves No One

Shaykh Jihad H Brown

The shock of unexpected violence and death can bring about trauma in the lives of the living that is difficult to make sense of, let alone bear. Muslim families are uniquely placed to empathise with the families of victims, as this has been their own daily reality in a region of the world plagued by uninvited violence for more than six decades now.

So it is with great sorrow and sympathy that we respond to the grief of the families connected to the tragic event at Fort Hood in Texas. The actions that led to the deaths of 13 people and the wounding of more than 30 warrant condemnation.

The killing of unarmed civilians is unconditionally prohibited in the sacred law of Islam. As an American citizen and a soldier in the US army, Major Nidal Malik Hasan had a covenant with the people of the United States, who were his neighbours.

This relationship is sacrosanct. Neighbours have no choice but to rely on one another, and to violate that trust is to undermine society itself.

In addition to this, soldiers who are unarmed and outside a combat zone are not actively engaged in harming others. In such circumstances, they may be tempted to reconsider their own involvement in violence. Violating this assumption of safety in the environment of civil society undermines the principles of trust and reliability that are held so dearly by the followers of the Prophet Mohammed. The traits he was known most for, even by his enemies, were truthfulness and trustworthiness.

If anyone, soldier or citizen, finds himself unable to continue in the covenant or obligation into which he has entered, he should seek to extricate himself publicly through the official and recognised means provided in the terms of the obligation. Conscientious objector status, honourable discharge or, if need be, the direct refusal to be involved in harming innocent human beings are all correct courses of action. Taking people’s lives, even if not civilian, outside a recognised combat zone, is not acceptable.

At this time, however, it is important that we call on everyone to reflect on the continuing tragic state of affairs in our combined lives, domestically and globally. It is not correct to continue to treat each of these painful ruptures in our routine lives as isolated moments without having responsibility for, and consciousness of, a wider state of affairs.

We seek sympathy in the moments of our own discomfort. But let us recognise that we seek that sympathy from people when we are prepared to be indifferent to the discomfort that is so often visited upon them.

The point I am making is that globalisation should have thoroughly driven home to us by now that we are all in this together. Just as Gandhi said that an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind, the Prophet Mohammed considered the entire world to be his community. He said about that community: “It is as one body, when one limb is in pain, the rest of the body lies awake in fever and sleeplessness.” Empathy has to complete the full circle.

We are the sum of our choices and as such bear responsibility for them before God. The continuing wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan were born in ethical controversy. And when violence is born out of ambiguity it will inevitably lead to circumstances of moral confusion.

Violence begets only more violence. Leadership and courage are required to stop the vicious circle. The global public has yet to see that leadership or courage on any side of these conflicts, yet it is they who continue to suffer the consequences, as disproportionate as that suffering may be. 

There continue to be American citizens, both Muslim and otherwise, who feel just as strongly about the illegitimacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as did Nidal Malik Hasan, but have found other ways of expressing that dissent than more violence. If we have learnt anything from the great men of history – the Prophet Mohammed foremost among them – it is that compassion always wins in the end.

Hurt is hurt. And a Muslim family that has experienced the bitterness of tragic loss would never wish that upon another. Muslim community leaders continue to implore their respective constituencies to stand by their principles, to be balanced and responsible citizens, and to renounce wanton violence.

Let us hope that other leaders will likewise hold up their end of responsibility. Now is the time for healing. And just as healing is a historical trait of Muslims, resilience is the proven trait of Americans. Would that the two could come together.  

Shaykh Jihad grew up in the United States and currently resides in Abu Dhabi where he serves as the Director of Research in the Tabah Foundation and teaches and delivers the Friday sermon. For more information please refer to the “Classes” tab above.

The Inherent Reward of Substance

Shaykh Jihad H Brown – 07 November 09

Glamour is only skin deep. Beauty is timeless. It is a sublimity that radiates from within, from behind, from under the surface.

Yet in our post-modern condition we continue to be fixated with surfaces. While our concern for magnification and granular focus on the micro-scale has reached nano proportions, it remains epidermal; extending no deeper than the integumentary level.

In our rejection of a “grand narrative” and the possibility of a centre, we are left with no canopy or core. As such, we remain condemned to wander the desolate wilderness of the surface, exposed to the elements, no compass, no meaning.

We are fixated on the moment, the here and now. We rave about one-hit wonders and flashes in pans; the glitz, the glam, the savoir-faire that belies the emptiness of presentism.

But apples have core, and oceans have depth; and trees grow from seeds, or do they? Real injaz (accomplishment/delivery) is fruit, nataj in Arabic; from the same root as natijah (results). But fruit comes from trees, and trees take a long time to grow. But why wait for trees to grow when you could just get implants? No use crying over uprooted olive trees; or so the saying goes.

We tend to blame Muslim leaders for being shallow, not getting at the issues, and generally dumbing down the discourse. But are they alone to blame when our public wants it simple and wants to avoid the issues (the underlying issues that is). And dumb is the new intelligent. Learning becomes education, education becomes edu-tainment, edu-tainment becomes entertainment, and entertainment becomes escapism. Escape from the frying pan and into the abyss, lost boys in the land of the lost. With both eyes lost we are susceptible to the first one-eyed Pied Piper who happens along the valley. My that sheep’s clothing is plush, must be Prada.

But we do it to ourselves. We know that fizzy drinks have no nutritional value, yet we reach for them anyway. And we want our outlook on life and our “information contacts” to be the same way. If a big label was mandated for pseudo-intelligent discourse that said, “This product is bad for your health. May cause cancer or death,” we would still puff away. Some like strawberry, some like mango, some like their entertainment “intellectual flavoured”. But when it reaches the point that I can’t tell the difference between fruit juice and fruit drink, why worry about flu’s with animal names.

The Quran is eternal, limitless. It is a resonation across time and space. In it we are told to be “people of core” (ulu albab). To have core is to have a centre, to be a person of substance. To have substance is to have a well nourished “person” with strong faculties and constitution. Your “person” is the sum of your faculties of body, mind, and soul.

The Muslim (a person who submits to the organic order of things) has been compared to a good tree. What makes for a good tree is the same thing that makes for a good Muslim. Its roots are deep, which enables its branches to extend ever skyward. Although it may sway with the wind, it bears fruit in all seasons.

The roots of the feeble tree, however, do not extend beyond the surface. Although its waxy veneer gives off a shine of newness, it is sickly and malnourished with the slightest wind it is uprooted and blown away.

Shaykh Jihad teaches and delivers the Friday sermon in Abu Dhabi. For more information please refer to the “Classes” tab on the main page.

When Religion Becomes a Vehicle

fameShaykh Jihad H Brown – Oct 31 2009

What’s worse than a television evangelist working his worship hall the size of the Superdome? Answer: an evangelist who doesn’t have a TV show or a Superdome but wishes he did.

If you happen to be offended by this reasoning then it’s probably better you re-evaluate your relationship with faith.

What exacerbates this “worseness” is the frustration of unfulfilled ambition. The adulation of the multitudes is intoxicating, but both ambition and seeing students as “fans” is contrary to the formative learning of the scholar.

Sacred knowledge teaches that the foundation of the relationship between teacher and student is one of compassion; and that as knowledge increases, so must the faculty of forbearance for the less-learned and humility before the infinite ocean of true knowledge, of which at our very best, we may never constitute more than a drop. What this means is that sacred learning is a “student-centred” programme.

Much of our community has been lulled into a post-9/11 daze of trying to fit in, which has led to a feeling among community leaders, and their “handlers”, that one must be savvy. To be truly savvy, the logic goes, it is OK – perhaps necessary – to adopt the trappings and techniques of celebrity and marketing. One of the most puzzling things I’ve ever encountered is to be handed a book written by another person and asked to autograph it.

But celebrity, ambition and savoir-faire are not what religion is about. And it is my contention that the confusion and conflation of these items is what has traditionally turned people away from religion and caused them to become disillusioned with the spiritual.

This is a more compelling argument than how well religion did or did not score on its science and technology report card at Choueifat last semester. People don’t come to church, mosque or synagogue for a biology class.

Religion revolves around six axes: beholding, conviction, discipline, transformation, action and adoration.

Beholding is to witness the ever-eminent presence of a limitless and eternal Creator, who grants and sustains the gift of life.

Conviction is when certainty in spiritual doctrine takes root in the marrow of one’s bones and informs thought and behaviour.

Discipline is to recognise that there is a difference between right and wrong, health and illness and to adhere to the former and avoid the latter.

Transformation is to realize the transformative reality of religion to refine and illumine hearts and minds and make us better people tomorrow than we were yesterday. It is to break through the monotony of the common and unremarkable or the status quo.

Action is to move from potential energy to kinetic; to engage in proactive, positive and constructive ethical activity.

Adoration is to transform love into devotion, to become an aspirant of the Divine Presence and be drawn to it like a moth to the flame; only here as a soul to the light.

Nowhere here is there space for self-promotion, profit seeking, or power plays. Religion is not a marketplace for venture capitalism. This muddying of the distinction between the illness and the cure, on the part of leadership, leads to a feeling of being hoodwinked and bamboozled on the part of the lumpen proletariat.

The continued abuse of religion as a means to secondary ends can become a virtual factory for both disaffection on one hand and extremism on the other.

Shaykh Jihad teaches and delivers the Friday khutba in Abu Dhabi. For more information please refer to the “Classes” tab on the main page.