HuffJummah: 'The People of America': A Religious Sermon

Whether you want to admit it or not, you can't escape it. We all belong, equally, to the same tribe, a new tribe, the tribe of "Ahl Al America" -- The people of Amreeka.
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This was Wajahat Ali's first khutbah (Friday religious sermon) given on March 16, 2012 at Duke University thanks to an invitation by Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, Duke's Muslim Chaplain.

Allah commands the believers in the Quran: "And be steadfast in patience, for verily Allah will not suffer the reward of the righteous to perish. (11:115)"

Today, I wanted to talk about the state of Ahl al Amreeka.

You must have heard of Ahl al America, right?

The people of America? The new tribe of America?


Everyone here who identifies as both an American and a Muslim -- you are members of Ahl al America.

Some would say we are the lucky ones, the blessed ones, the fortunate ones to be living in a democracy, a nation of opportunity, a country of liberties and freedoms.

But, many others, including perhaps most among us today, would ask if we, the Ahl al America, are indeed the blessed tribe, the fortunate tribe, the tribe of opportunity -- then why are we in so much pain?

Why are we forced to endure so much hardship, so much suffering, so much fear, prejudice, humiliation and uncertainty?

We are currently enduring one of the worst recessions of this nation's history. There is unemployment and lack of job security. The wealth disparity between the rich and the poor is at its largest, with no signs of receding. Families have lost their homes, and many of us here are in danger of losing our homes or our parents' homes.

College tuitions are skyrocketing, and college loans seem insurmountable. Crazy new diseases are rampant -- there's cancer and heart disease. There are floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis. And wars -- can't forget wars. We are a nation obsessed with wars, immersed in two major ones as we speak.

How do we, the Ahl al Amreeka, endure it?

Especially when Muslim is the most toxic brand name in America and Islam is about as popular as bubonic plague? How do we endure the pain?

Allah has given us two spiritual weapons of choice, and it's up to us if we want to employ them: sabr (patience) and shukr (gratitude.) The prophets and scholars say sabr and shukr also happen to be the two keys that will unlock the gates of heaven; without them, you might not have celestial accommodations.

Sabr -- patience, to patiently endure ... the hardships, the failures, the disappointments, the bitterness, the crushed dreams, the slanders and the humiliation.

As mentioned, Allah has commanded sabr in the Qur'an: "And be steadfast in patience, for verily Allah will not suffer the reward of the righteous to perish. (11:115)"

He adds: "But give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who say, when afflicted with calamity, 'To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.' They are those on whom descend blessings from their Lord, and mercy. They are the ones who receive guidance. (2:155-157)"

So, there's sabr.

And there's also shukr -- gratitude. To have thankfulness, appreciation, wonderment, joy and contentment despite all the chaos, the noise and the negative baggage of life.

Allah commands the believers in the Surat Al-Baqarah [verse 152]: "So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me."

And Allah gives us signs in the Qur'an -- the stories of the prophets, those who are innocent and beloved to God, but still forced to endure tremendous suffering despite or in spite of their piety:

•Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), who was thrown in the well, by his brothers no less, and later falsely imprisoned due to no fault of his own.

•Ayoob (Job), whose only crime was that he was a great man and a great prophet who loved his Creator and followed His every command. And what was his prize? He was tormented with
physical hardship, deformity and public humiliation.

•Ibrahim (Abraham) who was a friend of Allah, forced to endure the fire and suffer years without

•The verse commanding patience is from chapter 11, entitled Surat al Hud, named after the Prophet Hud, whose own people, the people of 'Ad, rejected his message, mocked him and exiled him.

•And, of course, we can't forget to mention the tremendous ordeals and struggles of habiballah, Prophet Muhammad, the beloved of Allah who also was exiled from his homeland, betrayed by his tribe, hunted down, mocked, and endlessly ridiculed.

They endured all their hardships and trials with sabr, and throughout it all they had shukr.

And all of them received a massive ROI (return on investment) in the deen (the spiritual world) and the dunya (the physical world.)

Joseph became the vizier of the pharaoh, the most powerful man at that time. Job's health and prosperity miraculously returned, even better than before. Ibrahim survived the fire and is now seen as the father of all the major monotheistic religions. Hud was quite literally the last man standing. And Prophet Muhammad? Well, we know that story.

Allah fulfilled His promise.

But, it seems having sabr and shukr is not enough, because these two recipes also require hope. It's a necessary ingredient -- hope that things will get better; hope that Allah will create a way out of the most impossible situations. And, in even in this bleak situation, it behooves us to exhale, take a step back and look at what other communities have endured and continue to endure.

Look at the community members of the Prophet, peace be upon him -- exiled and hunted, many times tortured and killed. Look at Muslims in the 13th century facing the destructive Mongol hordes, which lay to waste every city they encountered, pillaging and murdering with abandon. Everyone believed it would be the end of Islam.

Look at Muslims in 15th century Spain -- imprisoned, tortured, killed and then exiled along with the Jews as a result of the Spanish Inquisition. And, how about Muslims and Americans right here, right now? Forget looking to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Sudan, just drive around lower income neighborhoods to see the despair and hardship your neighbors are facing and enduring?

It also benefits us to look at the sabr, shukr and hope of the companions.

Out of love for his Prophet, Ali volunteered to lie in the Prophet's bed in his stead, allowing the Prophet to escape since assassins were plotting to kill him that very same night as he slept in his bed. Ali survived the night, and later said it was the best night's sleep he ever had.

Or, how about the love of companion Abu Bakr? He escorted the Prophet Muhammad and hid with him in the cave as assassins were in hot pursuit. All that separated them from certain death was a flimsy cobweb of a spider.

And speaking of love -- despite all the adversity and hardship, look at the love the Prophet Muhammad had for his community. He said to his believers, "Each and everyone one of you is a shepherd, and each and every one of you is responsible for his flock"

This flock includes our family and our fiends, but it also includes our neighbors and our community members.

Look at how the Prophet loved his Creator, how he loved his companions, how he loved his community and prayed for them until the end, always, asking Allah to bestow mercy on the "ummati, ummati, ummati. (my community, my community, my community)"

And look how he showed love to his neighbors and his enemies. They, who used to throw trash at him; slander him to his face; insult him; harass him, his family, his allies and his followers; they even exiled him.

And what was his response?

Most of the times, his response was simply a smile; other times his response was a dua'a (a prayer) to Allah to guide his enemies on the straight path; often times his response was to simply ignore the noise and simply walk forward.

But don't be confused or mistaken, the Prophet ignoring them was not an example of inaction. In fact, it was a response -- an elegant response. He was also proactive. He engaged in dialogue, in treaties, and he invested in relationships. Imagine - returning to Mecca and forgiving those very same people whom you know killed your family members, your companions and also tried to kill you?

Imagine walking amongst those whom you know still loathe you, but without ever compromising your personal character or moral integrity? Despite the pain, the Prophet still exercised love.

You might be thinking right now:

OK, awesome, Wajahat. Great -- sabr, shukr, hope and love. Wonderful. Got it. Faaaan-tastic. Thanks for that. Really helps me in my life and all my problems. You know problems? Real tangible problems?

Because you're expecting me to have sabr and shukr while I'm dealing with loans, bills, stress, potential foreclosures, and my crazy family, which is just the icing on the cake on top of all this insane Islamophobia?

And you say sabr? Patience? The only patience I know is the excellent Guns N' Roses song from the 80's. The only sabr I know is a light saber, and the last time I packed a plastic light saber I had to spend two hours getting grilled by TSA security.

Oh, and you're saying don't fear, right? Even though this entire nation is drowning in an ocean of fear -- fear of immigrants, fear of our neighbors, fear of people with multisyllabic last names, fear of people with "Hussein" in their middle name, fear of, well, people like ME.

Oh, and you're saying invest in hope? In that dangerous commodity known as hope? Just like the companions of the Prophet? Well, I don't have an Ali who will sleep in my bed to protect me. I have Abid who will come over my apartment at 2 a.m., sleep in my bed without my permission, and leave it smelling like four-day old South Asian food. I don't have an Abu Bakr. I have Abdullah who invites himself over, eats all mom's food, plays my PS3 and has cobwebs around him at all times because he doesn't take a shower. Those are my companions.

Oh, and love?

Love my neighbors and my enemies? Here's what my neighbors think of me; me who has tried his whole life to be a good man, a good Muslim, a good American and a good neighbor: They think I'm a radical stealth jihadist who wants to create Caliphornia and make them submit to the Sharia. They think I want replace McDonalds arches with minarets, force the statue of liberty to wear a burqah, and slaughter Porky Pig.

Oh, and you want me to love Allah and His Prophet?

Great, I do so publicly, and what happens? I get surveillance by local and federal law enforcement. My kids at school are now bullied for being Muslim. My local mosque, which has been around for 30 years, is now being protested. And my elected officials are raising money and votes by saying they're going to implement loyalty oaths against me to test if I'm America-holic enough.

They don't see me as a neighbor, or as a friend. They see me as a suspect.

And you're saying I should still have sabr, shukr, hope and love? Despite all the fear and the hate and the pain? You're saying to still love Allah, and his messenger, and his creations? You still want me to love them? That's what you're saying?


That's exactly what I'm saying.

Because we can take it. Because we can endure it. Because we can and will rise above it. It's a promise by Allah, and verily Allah always keeps his promise. "Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear ... (Qur'an, 2:286)"

Anything and everything you are facing as an individual, as a community, as a nation, you, me, we - we can take it. We can and will endure it. It will not break us.

Your test, our test as Ahl al Amreeka, is not a new one. This story has happened before, many, many times. We're simply the characters this time around.

But, we can take it. And we're supposed to take it. Because Allah says this is all part of the course:
He says, "And We shall certainly test you, until We know those of you who strive their utmost (for God) and who are the steadfast; and We shall test your reported mettle. (Qur'an 47:31)"

That's mettle: m-e-t-t-l-e -- it means your strength, your vigor.

And you can deny Allah, and you can deny having faith in Allah. But you can't deny the Prophet Muhammad. He was here. He lived. He suffered. He endured it. He rose above it. And, he is a model for us; a reflection, a daily guide on how to lead our lives through hardship.

Look at how he thought of his Creator, how he thought of his neighbors, how he thought of his community throughout all the pain. And, Allah promises us that he loves us. In fact, the Prophet is the beloved of Allah. And as we see, time and time again, with love there always comes pain.

Love and pain. They go hand in hand. Always.

And some might say, "Wow! Awesome. So, Allah is a sadist! Great! Interesting way of showing love, God! Thanks for asking us to be masochists!"

Well, that's one way of looking at it.

But another perspective -- an Islamic perspective, a spiritual perspective -- suggests this is merely a way of Allah testing our mettle (our resolve, our strength, our vigor.)

And speaking of metal: m-e-t-a-l. How does one produce metal from its ore? By subjecting it to fire. Through the process of smelting. It endures the fire, only to come out stronger at the end.

So, this adversity and troubled times is a way of refining the Ahl al Amreeka, of sharpening us, of honing our spiritual light sabers, of purifying us, of evolving us through a gauntlet of pain and struggle, so that we emerge harder, better, faster, stronger.

And the end result is not perfection. We won't be perfect. And we are not perfect. We are not meant to be perfect. We are fallible. Muslims suffer needlessly in their ridiculous romantic quest to achieve some sortof intangible perfection. Especially Muslim Student Association kids, they are often so hard on themselves.

I know. I was one of them.

It's good to remember a quote from Hadrat Ali: "Do not be so hard on yourself lest you break but do not be so soft, lest you be squeezed."

So, I hope you learn first and foremost to forgive yourselves for being human; humans who make mistakes time to time. Just like our neighbors, some of them who are making some pretty big mistakes concerning Muslims right now.

And it's time we, as a Muslim community, allow ourselves to forgive ourselves for being human; and, it's also time for us to learn to love ourselves again in a spiritually healthy way. Because, we need individuals to be spiritually healthy, because spiritually healthy individuals create spiritually healthy communities, which in turn creates a spiritually healthy nation, God willing.

And remember this: A strong spirit can always sustain a weak body. But a weakened spirit will not endure, even it is housed in the strongest of bodies. Right now, it seems that Ahl al Amreeka has a weakened body, but I assure you we have all the spiritual ingredients to fuel our spiritual light sabers to restore us to our strong, vibrant spirit.

So, may we have sabr, shukr, hope, and the audacity to love -- in spite of the pain -- so we can truly emerge as the Ahl al Amreeka we're meant to be.

May Allah forgive us for our sins -- the ones we've done knowingly and unknowingly; may he envelop us in His mercy, and may keep us on the straight path.

Part Two

Allow me to be ambitious and to expand on themes of the first half of the khutbah. I'll share a little secret with you. I'm going to tell you the key ingredients most great artists have: 1) love and 2) pain.

These are some of the most -- if not the most -- powerful emotions and feelings a human can experience.

When it comes down to it, love and pain generally inspire most art, really. Most rock songs are about having a crush on a girl, or breaking up with a girl, right?

Arguably, the greatest contributors to American culture and art are Africans Americans and Jewish Americans. We all know their history -- tremendous suffering, genocide, pain, humiliation, degradations. But also love -- love for life, for honor, for family, for traditions, for one another.

It's no wonder those emotions exploded -- figuratively -- and were unleashed through artistic enterprises that allowed them to create something completely new, mixing together their respective history, culture and identity but infusing it with an original Amreekan flavor.

In fact, look at Rumi and his poetry. His "Mathnavi": His epic volume of poetry written in Farsi. Rumi is the bestselling poet in America today. He outsells Frost and Dickinson. He was born 850 years ago.

And,he was Muslim. He was born in Afghanistan and then moving to Turkey following the Mongol invasion. He was a supreme lover of Allah and his Prophet.

Don't let people fool you: Rumi was a devout, practicing Muslim; a scholar, a jurist, a teacher -and only later, an artist and poet. And yet his intense burning love for the Divine and for lovers of the Divine caused him tremendous pain; almost unbearable suffering and personal turmoil.

Especially his love for his friend and mentor Shams-i-Tabriz. When Shams suddenly left one day, there was a void in Rumi. There was a pang. There was an immense pain that had to be quenched. Why?

Because lovers hate being separated. You want to be near your beloved. For some that's the dunya (the world), but for the lucky few, that means Allah and the deen (the spiritual world.)

So due to his love for the Divine and for his love of those who are beloved to the Divine, and due to his pain of being separated from his beloved, Rumi was inspired to unleash the floodgates of emotions, which resulted in the best-selling poetry of today. Something originally Islamic has now elegantly fused itself with the cultural fabric of America, and the poetry of a Muslim man who lived 800 years ago now heals hearts, brings joy, unites lovers, gives us Facebook quotes and inspires spiritual contentment for millions around the world.

And, even in the past 10 years we, American Muslims, the Ahl al Amreeka, have seen a figurative explosion of creativity. I believe we are witnessing a renaissance -- one that is unique for the world and this nation; one that is created by individuals who are both American and Muslim - YOU, who
have endured and continue to endure.

Members of a tribe that is messy but resilient -- much like America. We have entrepreneurs, engineers, architects, doctors, philanthropists, stand-up comedians, journalists, academics and even imams. This is a volatile time, but an exciting time -- one that is ripe for a renaissance; a rebirth.

And speaking of creation and artistry -- let's not forget the original artist -- Allah.

Look. Look around you at the diversity of Allah's creation. There's black, white, Yemeni, Desi, Egyptian, Syrian, and even miscellaneous, right here in this room -- in Amreeka. Allah says in the Qur'an: "Verily, he made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other, not that ye may despise (each other)."

Reflect on His design and artistry. Just take a moment to check out His brush strokes. He wasn't painting with one color, and definitely not in one style. And then what does He do with all these different colors?

He splashes them on a blank canvas called Amreeka. A-mer-eeka. America. The land that is our home. The messy melting pot of the universe with colors splashed all around -- but nonetheless there's still poetry to the chaos.

And all of this was inspired by Allah's love for his creation. And you forget that we, despite all our differences, are part of the same tribe. We're Muslim, and we're American.

Whether you want to admit it or not, you can't escape it. We all belong, equally, to the same tribe, a new tribe, the tribe of "Ahl Al America" -- The people of Amreeka.

So, it's our duty to Allah, to ourselves, our community and our neighbors, as shepherds - as Prophet Muhammad mentioned was our role -- to start building here. Start investing here. Start painting here -- even in present times of distress and chaos and turmoil and pain.

Because we have all the spiritual ingredients and colors given to us by the Lead Painter -- we have an inventory consisting of sabr, shukr, hope and love.

So, may we as individuals and as a community create our masterpiece here for everyone and anyone to benefit from and see. So, that when it's all done, and when it's time for us to hang up our paintbrush, that we may proudly show off our creations and say with dignity and honor -- this here, this was created by one from the Ahl al America!

So, may we love Allah like the prophet loved Allah. May we love the prophet like his companions loved him. And may we, the Ahl al Amreeka, be the shepherds of our greater community. May we love our neighbors, our community, our friends, our enemies, and especially ourselves -- even though it may be painful from time to time.

I have tremendous shukr that you had the sabr to endure my first khutbah. Thank you.

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