I delivered this Khutbah (Friday Sermon) at Inclusive Mosque (London) on Friday 20th January 2017. The world was reeling with shock regarding the events of 2016 first Brexit and then Trump winning the US Presidential election. I knew as I prepared this sermon in December that a few hours after I delivered it, Trump was going to be inaugurated as President. So this was my attempt to console people feeling bereft and without hope:
When I was asked to do this Khutbah I felt overwhelmed with this tremendous responsibility. However now I feel humbled at the opportunity of sharing some thoughts and discoveries with you. Halima the Chair of Inclusive Mosque Initiative (IMI) sent me some helpful advice. It was suggested that I split the Khutbah into two parts the first to concentrate on matters of Deen. The second part to see how these matters can be applied to our lives. My eyes lingered and stayed on the word Deen. I smiled. Last year in March 2016 I was asked to deliver a lecture entitled God’s voice in a Secular society at JCM a Jewish Christian Muslim Interfaith conference that happens in Germany every year. In late 2015 I started studying what Deen means as well as studying Secularism. My research led me on an exciting journey and one insight I gained, is that Deen is so misunderstood. Very much like Islam, Iman, and Ihsan which I would like to talk about today but suspect will not have time to. The meanings of Deen have become entrapped and enslaved into a one dimensional understanding. However like all of us sitting here, the term is multi-dimensional. I discovered by going back to the etymology which is the studying of the words and the way in which their meanings have changed over time and throughout history, one frees the term from the rigid one dimensional constraints and one frees oneself. By looking at the Arabic, one breathes life back into the term and the word becomes dynamic and vibrant and relevant again. Deen comes from the root verb DA NA. DA NA means to borrow, to owe, incur debt. I have always understood Deen best by using Halima Krausen (my spiritual teacher and my spiritual mother’) relationship model. This model shows that religion is the practice of balancing the responsibilities arising from the relationships between one’s self, fellow human beings, the rest of creation (the environment) and other living beings as well as God. Surprisingly God is considered as one of the relationships and not necessarily the most important one. This model is a circular one. A piece of advice I have clung to and only discovered late in my life is the most important relationship you have is the one you have with yourself. So if DA NA is a system of mutual debt or an ethical order of debt and about restoring balance of different obligations i.e. different responsibilities to all these different relationships then why do so few of us understand it in that way and why is it that we only understand it is as solely about our relationship with God? It suddenly struck me Malike Yawmideen is mostly translated as Master of the Day of Judgement. However Malike Yawmideen can also be translated as Master of the Day where the Balance is restored. I had a light bulb moment when I heard that. I am sure I am not only speaking for myself when I say in the middle of my competing responsibilities of being a mother to 3 sons aged 20, 15 and 9, all who have differing needs and working as a Social Worker in a Youth Offending Team, I glimpse at those rare moments when I do feel I actually nailed it! I got the balance right somehow! Perhaps by doing this, praying for that, sharing that? Understanding that Deen isn’t just about judgement, it has intensified my connection to Surah Fatihah and opened my heart, my mind and my soul in seeking guidance and help to balance the conflicting responsibilities to myself, my fellow human beings, my environment, my fellow living beings and God. I would like to share Halima Krausen’s Translation of Surah Fatihah The Opening, I pray that this be the Opening for guidance for all of us.
In the name of God
The Most Merciful
The Mercy Giving
Thanks to the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds
The Most Merciful
The Mercy Giving
Master of the Day Where Balance is restored
You alone we serve
And You alone we ask for help
Guide us on the Straight Path
The Path of those that say yes to your favour
Not the path that causes Anger
And of those who are astray
Quran 1:1-7 Surah Fatiha The Opening verses 1-7 Translation by Halima Krausen.
Lastly I want to end with the Dua (Supplication/Prayer) in Surah Baqara The Cow Chapter 2 of the Holy Quran verse 286. This Surah is aptly named the Cow as it is very meaty. Indeed there is a lot to chew over and reflect upon and therefore to digest. I have attempted a translation fusing the translations of Halima Krausen and Amina Wadud.
God does not place upon a soul more than it can bear
To (each soul) is what it earns and against (each) is what it has accrued.
Our Cherisher and Sustainer
Do not punish us, if we forget or if we err.
Out Cherisher and Sustainer
Do not place a burden upon us like You placed upon others before us
Our Cherisher and Sustainer
Do not place upon us what we cannot endure
Forgive us and have mercy upon us
You are our Cherisher and Sustainer
Help us against people who deny or reject (the Truth)
Quran 2:286 Surah Baqara The Cow verse 286
I found this prayer on page 188 in “A World of Prayer” book Edited by Rosalind Bradley. The book is published by Orbis books who are based in New York USA.The book is a collection of Spiritual Leaders, Activists and Humanitarians sharing their favourite prayers. Perhaps it will be helpful to quote Amina Wadud on page 189 about why it is one of her favourite prayers.
“This Arabic passage taken from the Quran reads poetically: at the places where there is a cry for divine help, the language itself had the quality of a call, rendering the supplication twice as powerful in the original than in the English translation. I like the way it describes the nafs (soul, person or ego) as never having to endure anything more that it can bear or that it can achieve through its own effort and yet in the end asking that we not have to endure more than we can bear. While this is a very personal and individual cry the plural form indicates there is a collective human need for guidance in attaining truth forgiveness and mercy. In its direct invocation to God there is a synchronicity between the everyday ordinary and the Sacred. Through God we achieve the alleviation of our fears and the fulfillment of our needs.”
Having just shared with you some insights about Deen, I am sure like me you are left with a lot of questions. How do we balance all these conflicting relationships in this Post Brexit, Trump era? When most of the time we are constantly caught off balance with the Xenophobia, Racism, Homophobia and Islamaphobia that pervades our existence. Having been a Social Worker for 25 years (a quarter of a century yes even I find it hard to believe), there are a few things I have learnt and instinctively know. Relationships are messy. However most of us want to tidy them up. I know that most times I do not nail it. I am constantly battling with my ego.
Preparing for this Khutbah I know I neglected myself, I did not get enough sleep and there are the usual evenings when I choose to give my few extra hours in the evenings trying to catch up on my case notes and staying behind in the office instead of having half an hour having a cup of tea with my mother who only lives down the road from me. There are those occasions when having cooked and completed my housework chores for hours, I am sometimes too exhausted to hear about my son’s day at school and get irritated easily.
Life is messy and I sometimes think in our quest to understand and put stuff into neat little boxes, we miss the point. Perhaps in the messiness, the entangled nature of them, we can find joy and nourishment? One of my favourite verses of the Quran and hidden with deep meanings, only really understood via the knocks of life, is verse 66 of Surah Nahl from The Holy Quran. The Surah is aptly named the Bee because it contains healing and reminds us how in conscientious struggle and through this labour of love i.e. team work and in forming communities, we can be find healing and meaning. Like bees we seek and collect knowledge together and work with each other and through this process we maintain and sustain communities. So like Inclusive Mosque, I find it interesting that the bee does not differentiate or discriminate between the flowers but settles on every flower to find the nectar. Like Inclusive Mosque, bees do not exclude flowers but are inclusive. Back to the messiness of relationships I really feel the verse from Surah Nahl captures it all and is an apt reminder.
“And surely in the cattle and livestock there is a lesson for you: we give you to drink of what is in their bellies, between filth (excrement) and blood; pure milk, sweet to drinkers”
Quran 16:66 Surah Nahl The Bee verse 66
“And thy Cherisher and Sustainer taught the Bee to build its cells in hills on trees and in human habitations. Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth) and find with skill the spacious paths of its Cherisher and Sustainer: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, Wherein is healing for human beings, Indeed in this is a sign for those who reflect.”
Quran Surah Nahl The Bee verses 68 & 69
So amidst the excrement and blood one finds the milk the wisdom. So perhaps amongst the excrement that we have to wade through and the blood we have to taste via the knocks and punches life gives us, we find the wisdom and this gives us the knowledge to live our life and balance our responsibilities and our relationships.
And perhaps in the relationships we have (whether that is the ever developing one with ourselves or with God or with the environment or with our friends and family or our frenemies) we find some solace and nourishment. I sometimes see in the age we live where fear, and hate is all around and this causes anxiety and disease, it is living in the here and now that is the key to ground us.
Some Muslims look back to the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire or even to the 1980s and 1990s to a Pre 9/11 world where the world was not so complicated. But I believe that we look at the past with rose tinted nostalgia forgetting that in some ways things were not easy then. Despite the Rumis and Hafezes and Iqbals being in the world, there was still political turmoil. Living in the Post Brexit world of May and Trump, I know we are all naturally anxious about the future. However resigning ourselves to the fact that the Last Days are very near is just giving up on our responsibilities to trying to live an ethical life and our primary responsibility to make society and the communities we live and reside in a much more just and fair place.
In Social Science research findings I hear time and time again (and I have been practising for over two decades) the following: if the practitioner establishes a rapport with the marginalised traumatised young person, that rapport is the key to a successful outcome. I would say that in this increasingly materialistic, racist and militaristic world we live perhaps like these traumatised young people who find healing in the relationship that is built with their Social worker, Youth Worker or Psychologist, we can taste the honey and experience the healing from the relationships we have in our lives. We need to try to develop and maintain them rather than being consumed by the consumerism that is all around us. We need to delve deep into ourselves and take solace in our relationships whether that be with our birth or spiritual families and with our friendships and with the pets we have and the environment we live in. We have to find beauty, comfort, solace and nourishment, (not necessarily in the material surroundings whether that is in extravagant dinners or ostentation of piety) but in the simple joys of life!. And believe me they do not cost a lot of money. It can be a board game (I rediscovered Monopoly recently), a piece of music, a song, a poem, a smile or a home cooked meal. These can all bring healing!
Perhaps by enjoying the here and now this can renew and re-energise our souls and lead us to reconcile ourselves with each other and help us to trust that God is there for us and help us to keep safe in these turbulent times we live in. This is despite the bitter poisonous hate around us. Perhaps by sustaining and nurturing these relationships rather than chasing some elusive materialistic goal, we can create more resilient communities. I hope to live in these communities that are not just traumatised by the past resulting from colonialism or overshadowed by the gloom caused by the neo-liberal crusade to dominate the future. Having this hope I think this Dua makes even more sense and is perhaps even more relevant to save us from the impending hell that is about to recommence with the Inauguration of Donald Trump later on today.
I will therefore end today’s Khutba with the Dua from Surah Baqara verse 201. The translation is from my Spiritual Teacher and Spiritual Mother Halima Krausen. I am sure all of you are familiar with this dua.
“Our Cherisher and Sustainer
Give us the Beauty and Kindness in this world
And give us the Beauty and Kindness later on
And save us from the suffering of the Fire”
Quran 2 201:Surah Baqara The Cow verse 201
20th January 2017