Ramadan 2010 Sermons: Week 3.

Shaykh Jihad Brown discusses the Pakistan floods and the imperative of the believing men and women to open their hearts, minds and pockets in this blessed month to come to the plight of their brothers and sisters. The Pakistan floods, he mentions, are as much a test for us, those who have not been afflicted, just as they are for those in Punjab, Sindh and the North-West Frontier.

Listen Here:

Download Here: 27-08-10_Ramadan wk3

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Rethinking the Meaning of Muslim Pt.6

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown | August 13 2010 | The National, Abu Dhabi

In this series of articles over the summer, we have been treating the three elements that comprise a new way of looking at the identity of the Muslim. We spoke of the Muslim as “stranger-in-the-world”, being in the world yet not “of” the world; how he or she is not bound by affiliations or attachments, but instead, a moral-ethical agent. We spoke of the Muslim as a healer, mending broken relationships and restoring balance to the systems and ecologies that make up our world and society.

The third element that rounds out the calling of the Muslim in the world is the Muslim as educator or teacher. Knowledge and its people are praised throughout the Sacred Text. After the infamous Battle of Badr, prisoners of war were told by the Prophet Mohammed that they could earn their freedom by teaching 10 Muslims to read. Such is the emphasis on learning and teaching in Islam.

Ignorance is a barrier to freedom. A person without understanding of the reality around him is easily cowed by the darkness of what he does not know. He is easily manipulated and unable to chart his own course through the world.

The mission of the Prophet is over and over again described with the motif of bringing people from darkness to light. Ignorance and misinformation, in the way it curtails people’s options and possibilities is akin to the dark. Knowing, on the other hand, is daylight, unobstructed sight.

But there is more to it. Knowledge has become a commodity in our pragmatic utilitarian world. Education has become a business. For the consumer, it is often only a vehicle represented by the certificate or degree denoting that the right configuration of hoops were jumped. It has been reduced to a means toward more valuable, usually material ends.

The commoditisation of knowledge in the Muslim world is one of the factors that aids and abets extremism. Without an intellectual culture, the human being becomes a machine, devoid of meaning. Knowledge, the source of meaning, becomes no more or less important than its pragmatic utility.

In the Islamic conception, knowledge is an end in itself. The state of knowing and active contemplation of reality is a form of worship. The contemplative adoration of the divine presence is one of the highest forms of devotion. It is the state of the Muslim in prayer and is what Muslims are engaged in when they stand at night in the tarawih prayers of Ramadan. Of course people vary in their degrees of access to these vistas of meditation and beholding. It remains a factor of learning, teaching, and discipline.

Knowing, the active form of knowledge, is a fulfilment and completion of being human. The intellect and soul are what distinguish us from animals or inanimate objects. Many are the vegetables walking through life in a heedless daze.

Without knowing we are incomplete. Facilitating knowledge is the vocation and calling of the Muslim in the world. So much of what divides human beings and causes conflict between them is ignorance and misunderstanding. Ignorance is a source of discord in the world and knowledge is a source of healing. Of course, knowledge as healing presupposes the knowledge of the correct uses of what is known.

Abuse, and the abuse of knowledge, is a factor of correct or incorrect teaching and the organic or inorganic nature of the learning process. The emphasis that traditional Islam places on the relationship between the teacher and the student cannot be over-emphasised.

The Prophet famously said: “This material world is forsaken, and everything in it is forsaken; except the contemplation of the Divine Reality, and the teacher and the student.”

Looking into the Core of Ramadan

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown | 21 August 2010 | The National, Abu Dhabi

We are all human. At one end of what that statement means, we share a lot in common with the animals. Humans can be bestial, callous, and capricious. But at the other end, human beings have the potential to be angelic – sensitive, enlightened, and caring. Ramadan is here to bring out the latter.

The pangs of hunger and the parchedness of thirst drive home a consciousness of purpose like nothing else.

For thirty days, one is very aware of his or her relationship with God. It is intimate, no one but you and God really knows if you’re actually going without. The meaning of dedication is brought to a visceral level.

Disciplining the soul to distance itself from animal passion lightens its being and lifts it away from the heavy, opaque, materiality of its existence and toward something more ethereal.

The thirty days of Ramadan are divided into thirds. The first third, we are told in the teachings, is “compassion”. The generosity of God in the lessons to be learned and rewards and blessings to be accrued at the opening of this month are without doubt merciful.

But one also learns compassion. It is difficult for anyone, whether they be wealthy or otherwise, not to gain a window, however discrete and temporary, on to the suffering of others.

If Ramadan is observed properly, a sense of gratitude is engendered, followed by a motivation to relieve the suffering of others. Our responsiveness to the plight of the flood victims in neighboring Pakistan is currently serving as a “key performance indicator” of how well we’re observing Ramadan.

This week, we have entered into the second third of the month; the one whose over-arching theme is forgiveness.

The Way of Islam is premised upon forgiveness. The acceptance of the sinner is foundational to the religion itself. The Prophet Mohammed said: “Every child of Adam is given to sin; and the best of those who sin are those who repent.” It is in Ramadan that Allah invites us to find that repentance, and He offers forgiveness in return.

Each and every one of us comes to Ramadan with baggage to atone for and we all hope that Allah will accept us, despite our religious blemishes and spiritual shortcomings.

As such, we ourselves should be forgiving people. We should be accepting and tolerant of the wayward transgressor; disapproving of sin while not shutting out the person afflicted with it.

The objective of Islam is not to make the believer a judgemental person. Remember that it was the Muslims who were the victims of the Inquisition. It would be counter-intuitive for the Muslim to become the inquisitor.

The Way of Islam has something different to offer the world. Instead of a judgemental religion, Islam offers a shift in focus toward the narration of the individual’s personal journey toward spiritual ascent and purification. Islam is about individuals refining themselves, disciplining their appetites, and ridding their egos from the handicaps and shortcomings that retard spiritual progress.

It is from here that Muslims seek to secure an environment that is conducive to spiritual growth. It is from here that Muslims seek a place free of unnecessary obstacles to purification and upward momentum.

Forgiveness abounds in Ramadan and makes its rounds. Let us all see what we can do to be part of that.

Ramadan 2010 Sermons: Week 2

Ramadan series of sermons delivered lately by Shaykh Jihad Hashim Brown in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

To listen: [Running time: approx 40 mins]

To download: 20-08-10 – Ramadan 2

Rethinking the Meaning of Muslim Pt.5

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown | August 07 2010 | The National, Abu Dhabi

This statement and others like it inspired generations of Muslim physicians to pursue learning, experimentation, and application in order to locate the cures to illness as well as promote the factors of good health.

From Avicenna to Rhazes, Muslim physicians were actively pursuing medical advancement and perfecting the art of patient care from 610CE onward. The Arabic language, Canon Medicinae of Ibn Sina – written in the 11th Century – was influential in Europe well into the 18th. In the 9th Century, al Rahawi drafted a text in medical ethics; and in 860CE al Tabari was the first to treat pediatrics as an isolated discipline.

Muslim public hospitals, known as bimaristans, were opened as early as 707CE. They were institutions dedicated to caring for the infirm and the complete restoration of health as opposed to merely isolating the sick and diseased from the public, as was the case with most hospices, asylums, or leper houses of the time.

A defining feature of these institutions would be the diversity and egalitarian nature of patient care. Patients of all ethnicities and religious backgrounds were welcomed and received treatment. With separate wards for diverse diseases and specialisations, dispensaries, laboratories, libraries, and outpatient clinics, these bimaristans would engage in advanced surgery and experiment with psychology, the identification of contagious diseases, optometry, cataract removal surgeries, as well as music as a form of treatment.

Islam’s concern for medicine goes all the way to its roots. Whole volumes abound in the classical literature treating the medical concerns and techniques of the Prophet Mohammed. The motif of healing itself is tangibly present throughout the Quran.

The Quran (10:57) informs us, “Mankind, there has come to you an exhortation from your Lord and a healing for what is in the breasts.”And again (Quran, 17:82), “We send down of the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy for the believers.” Regarding the medical usages of honey, the Quran speaks of the bee and how from within it comes a drink of varied colours and healing properties for mankind (Quran, 16:69).

All of these subjects have been treated exhaustively in other literature available to those interested. However, our purpose here is to expand the remit of the healing imperative in Islam to wider applications. We have mentioned earlier that Muslim identity is underscored by three properties; being a stranger-in-the-world, being a healer, and being an educator. In humankind’s role as steward-in-the-earth they are commissioned to maintain the equilibrium of all the ecologies of the world; whether social, natural, or urban (Quran, 55:7-9). The restoration of lost equilibriums is a particular modality of healing.

The Quran intimates that fraternity is an integrated element of the ontology of the believer. When this fraternity breaks down into rifts and divisions, the Muslim is mandated to mend those rifts in relationships (Quran, 49:10). Mending broken relationships is another modality of healing.

At the level of international conflict, resolution by the most peaceful possible means is the implied Quranic preference (Quran, 8:61). This prioritisation of diplomatic resolution is a modality of healing.

Finally, the classical literature of Islam is pre-eminently concerned with identifying types of spiritual illness in the heart and setting about curing them. This is a type of cardiac first response care, in a metaphysical sense.

Here we are on the cusp of Ramadan 2010. It is the month of compassion. It is the month of polishing the heart and illuminating the souls. It is the month of love, family, and fraternity. Let’s see if we can’t make it a month of healing.

Rethinking the Meaning of Muslim Pt. 4

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown | July 17 2010 | The National

Our conversation for the past few weeks has been centred on revisiting the idea of Muslim identity.

The authenticity of such an identity has seemed to slip away into the cracks somewhere between reactionary rigidity and extreme liberalism. It’s stagnant and disingenuous any way you cut it.

For the past 10 years – of villainisation, invasion, “random” airport shake-downs and front-door breakdowns – many Muslims have been gripped by fear that this would lead to their very own Kristallnacht.

This fear has induced many to relinquish any semblance of an original identity that might cause them to be unique in a crowd.

On the other side, another group has proven that they can be as stubborn as mules; and about as intelligent, tenaciously clinging to post-colonial modernist ideology. In a post-modern world it’s about as ingenious or effective as a corpse filled with formaldehyde.

The environment produced by an ambiguous yet menacing “war on terror”, obsessive suspicion and perpetual energy wars have elicited a great deal of media attention and public interest in anything “Muslim”. This has enticed a third group out of the closet.

Having spent the majority of their lives striving to disassociate themselves with Islam, this group has stepped up to carry the liberal man’s burden. These new media darlings will courageously commandeer the discourse on Islam to win the grudging acceptance of the xenophobic hordes that think that Nova Scotia is in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the 1980s, before all this mayhem and confusion and the purple haze of aimlessness that it has produced, Muslims had – by default – developed the identity of “freedom fighter”.

The reputation of Islam was as of yet still relatively untarnished and Muslims everywhere were cast in the role of resistance to clear and present tyranny.

I’m not going to argue with that. The Muslim can be comfortable with the epithet “freedom fighter”. But without higher purposes as a guide, so the saying goes, “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s Sandinista.”

It is these higher purposes that inform the identity and calling of a people that would seek to bring about a better state of affairs in the world.

In what has preceded, we have proposed that the meaning of being Muslim pivots upon three aspects of identity. The Muslim is a stranger (in the world yet not of it), the Muslim is a healer, and the Muslim is a teacher.

A close reading of the prophetic personality of Mohammed bears this out.

Having focused at length on the first of these three, we begin with the second: Islam’s concern for healing.

In what follows we will look at the emphasis that Islam has placed on the medical treatment of the human body through its scientific legacy of medicine. But we will also look at the holistic concern for the healing of body, mind and soul; as well as the mending of rifts in relationships; and the meaning of healing to be found in the restoration of equilibrium to systems of any type and configuration.

Until then, this is Jihad Brown, signing off from Logan International Airport in Boston, and hoping to correspond with you next week from Los Angeles. Peace.

Friday Sermon: The Rights & Responsibilities of Brotherhood Pt. 7b: Prohibition of Desertion

Friday sermon delivered by Shaykh Jihad H. Brown on 15 January 2010, continuing the Brotherhood series.

Listen Here:

Download Here: Brotherhood Pt.7b [Mp3 – Running time: 31:59 | Size: 43.9 mb]

Rethinking the Meaning of Muslim Pt. 3

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown | July 10 2010 | The National

In what has preceded, we have spoken of how Muslim identity should be defined by a “grounded authenticity”, as opposed to ideology, “identity politics”, or orthodoxy.

If we look closely at the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, we can easily see that this identity pivots on three underpinning modalities; that of autonomous-uniqueness, healing, and enlightenment.

We began talking about autonomous-uniqueness and how it derives from the concept of stranger-ship in the prophetic “hadith” literature.

The Muslim is set apart from the crowd, not susceptible to “herd” mentality. She is thoughtful, and chooses her course of action based on reasoned consideration of both right and wrong, as well as priorities and goals. She is not a bystander; when a situation requires action or intervention, when others are content to turn away, she steps in to do the right thing.

The Muslim is part of the world yet not “of” it. He has one foot in this world and one foot in the “unseen”. He is detached from the material world – it is not the target of his aspiration – while he maintains a deep-seated concern for the well-being of its people.

The Muslim is awake to his moment and not sleeping through life. He is alive, his heart hasn’t died from cynicism or nihilistic-scepticism. The Quran refers to this when it asks: “Is the person who was dead and we imbued him with life and made for him a light by which he walks amongst the people like another, lost in darkness, unable to find a way out?”

The Prophet Mohammed startled his companions with a new twist on an old Arab saying. After driving home to them a new sense of fairness and responsibility, especially for the downtrodden and disenfranchised, he said, in a seemingly unexpected turn: “Come to the aid of your brother, whether he is the oppressor or the oppressed.” Dumbfounded, they said that, based on his teachings up to that point they could understand how to assist when he is oppressed, but how so when he is the oppressor?

“Stop him from his oppression,” he replied point blankly.

As a result of this perspective, the believer is not a party to conflict and in most instances will not take sides, but will remain an impartial observer. This is because in almost all circumstances of conflict, both sides are in the wrong in some way.

It is the calling of the Muslim as “stranger” to advise both parties in conflict as to the best course toward amenable and sustainable resolutions. The preference is always to move matters toward a diplomatic solution. The Quran says: “If your opponent inclines toward peace, then you also so incline.”

From her vantage point as “stranger” or of “autonomous-uniqueness”, the Muslim is a factor of balance in a world that abounds with catalysts toward chaos. “Islam” means submission to the natural harmony of the cosmos despite the rebellious element in the human ego. It is when people are convinced to relinquish resistance – to the natural order – and align themselves with “original harmony”, that peace prevails.

But this is not a mere détente, or “absence of conflict”, it is a sustainable and balanced peace of hearts and minds.

Rethinking the Meaning of Muslim

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown | July 03 2010 | The National Newspaper

Last week we spoke about problems of ideology, identity and orthodoxy, specifically politicisation of religion as an ideology, or using it as a vehicle for identity politics, or the suffocating effects of “command and control” orthodoxy.

We mentioned the need for an alternative approach, one that could provide us, instead, with a “grounded authenticity”. What is required is an approach to religious experience that connects people to the source – the wellspring – of meaning, such that it can be effective, significant and rewarding in their lives.

What is required is a coherent and holistic system that makes sense of complex reality as well as suggesting a framework for an effective ethical programme to engage with that reality. This is what religion should provide.

Any faith-based programme should be rewarding and transformative in both the lives of those who subscribe to it, as well as the context of relationships around them.

Once we have freed the identity of the Muslim from political ideologies, ethnic utilitarianism and doctrinal policing, it becomes free to pivot upon three timeless meanings: autonomous-uniqueness, healing and enlightenment. It is my contention – upon a close reading of primary sources – that the core identity of the believer is found in their being unique, a healer and an educator.

It is this first quality of autonomous uniqueness that I would like to touch upon here. The believer is meant to be a stranger in the world. The motif of the wayfaring traveller abounds in primary literature, but it is the allegory of stranger-ship that I believe strikes the most profound chord. The Prophet mentioned that this Way (deen, meaning Islam) began as a stranger and will return as it began; therefore, the felicitous outcome will be for the strangers.

Just as the Prophet was unrecognised by his own people at the outset of his mission – even though they had always referred to him as the Truthful and Trustworthy (Sadiq Amin) – so too will the Way of Islam return at the end of time unrecognisable by its own people.

One could say that this is the situation of Islam today. For this reason, it is not only non-Muslims who stand to benefit from revisiting what it means to be Muslim, but Muslims themselves need to carefully consider this.

The meaning of “stranger” here is to be unique yet accessible, a free and autonomous soul yet disciplined, to be detached from the world yet concerned for it, unaligned and impartial yet faithful to fairness and truth.

At the heart of this “stranger-ship” is the Islamic concept of “freedom” (huriyyah). But far from being a modern political ideology, freedom here means freedom from attachments. Especially, attachments to things other than the Eternal; things that would divert the believer from higher purposes.

This freedom from attachments appears to imply a complete divestment from all other affiliations; however, this is not exactly the case. The Way of Islam accommodates affiliations, whether they be tribal, family, ethnic or even national. The difference is that the stranger is not owned by his affiliations; instead, he owns his affiliations and deploys them in the service of his higher purposes.

The Muslim “as stranger” is not susceptible to the “herd” mentality, nor are they a bystander. The consciousness of higher purpose leads to a conscientiousness of action. Faith becomes transitive, not just a source of individual benefit, but a driver that encourages the believer to be a functional asset to community and society.

Religion as Ethnicity, Religion as Orthodoxy

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown | 26 June 2010 | The National

We spoke several weeks ago about religion as ideology and how it amounts to the politicisation of faith. Politicising faith ends in cancelling it out completely because power politics is, at the end of the day, nothing more than the chess game of materialism. Religion was never meant to be a vehicle for material gain but instead as a path, or a way, to transcend the merely material.

The possibility of religion and its people to fulfil this calling will always face obstacles. One such obstacle is another type of politics – identity politics. Identity politics, as it pertains to Islam, begins when the spiritual teachings of religion become blurred with the boundaries of culture. This blurring reaches a point where affiliates can no longer make out a difference between the two. Religion becomes a badge of ethnicity. It either becomes a line in the sand to define “us” from “them”, or it becomes as a mascot in the parade to redress grievances or gain enfranchisement for marginalised groups.

A sign of this is when you find non-practitioners putting themselves forward as pundits, advocates, or “expert witnesses”. They share little with the religion qua spiritual path save for a distant genealogical connection to a village that once did. Two things are lost here in the case of Islam: religion as both an ethical consciousness, and as source for the revivification of the soul.

A third obstacle is the disenfranchisement that is produced by overbearing suffocation or stagnation.

We have all heard a friend or acquaintance say: “I don’t believe in organised religion.” No doubt, some of us – honestly, myself included – sympathise with such statements. At the same time many of us, myself included, find ourselves in the conundrum of being connected with what might be termed “organised religion”; asking ourselves, “How did we end up here?” So let’s see if we can analyse this complaint with a bit more detail.

What is wrong with “organised religion”? The problem is one of enforcement and the suffocation of conscience. Spiritual experience is intensely personal; and when religion becomes a police state the realness of that privacy becomes lost. Orthodoxy often equals policing. The rejection of this “big brother” style of religious surveillance becomes even more intense in the post-20th century world of hyper-individualism. Everyone is a rebel with a personalised cause.

The conundrum is that the sound recension of enlightenment and praxis is the guarantor of being connected to the source. Actual religion cannot be reduced to a self-stylised emotionalism.

Religions are timeless traditions that infuse their practitioners with life for the soul and open a portal on to another dimension of experiencing reality. The alternative holds more in common with “positive psychology” than to perennial world traditions.

What is needed is not so much “orthodoxy”, but authenticity and “grounded-ness”. What is needed is a programme to unlock the giving power of Islam to bring meaning to people’s lives and be an ethical conscience for an increasingly insensitive and industrialised society.

This programme needs enough connection to authentic tradition to secure a conduit for the grace of baraka, the providence of tawfiq, the provision of madad, and the realisation of haqiqah.