Daring to Dream in Times of Despair

Based on a sermon by Imam AbuTaleb at Islamic Association of Raleigh

on November 11, 2016

After praising Allah, the Exalted, the Almighty, I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except for Him alone and I bear witness that Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, is the last of His prophets and the seal of His messengers.

My honored brothers and sisters, in this present climate in which that we find ourselves, many people are fearful about changes to come. Muslims, minorities, many Americans and many people across a world that is torn by too much conflict and hatred and fear. Many people in their fear, turn to despair. They don't know how to see a better day or something good come out of this. At IAR as a place of worship and as a masjid and as a non-profit organization, we do not support or endorse any particular candidate or party or get involved in politics, yet often, this uncertainty spikes during those cycles regardless of who the candidates are.

A study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding tracked incidents of Islamophobia and hate crimes from 2001 to 2013, expecting that Islamophobia might spike during terror incidents that are rightfully or wrongfully ascribed to people who claim to be Muslims. Yet shockingly, the study did not find that. During that 12 to 13 year period, they found three clear spikes in hate crimes and Islamophobic sentiments. Do you know when they were? It was during the lead up to the war in Iraq in the early 2000s and in during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, suggesting that Islamophobia was not a natural outgrowth of fear of radicalism and violence but a man-made tool of manipulation of the masses. Many people have gained votes and money and social status off of the backs of oppression of Muslims and other vulnerable minorities.

My brothers and sisters, when we look at this, we realize that this is no accident and its consequences touch each and every one of us. Sadly, many of us have seen this with our own children and our own relatives and our own friends. Just yesterday, I received a story of an older sister who was talking about her ten-year-old younger sister. Ten years old, in elementary school. This young woman, this young girl, whose classmates were dealing with her just fine last week. This week, they called her a terrorist. In an Elementary school. A ten-year-old child whose worst crime is probably returning a library book a day late, called terrorist by other children that are also innocent as can be but are learning such behaviors from adults and their parents.

This week, several American Muslims, young women, particularly those observing hijab were subjected to crimes and violence. One person ripped a muhajjibah down to the ground, took her hijab and her wallet and walked off for no other reason but her appearance of being Muslim. No one needs to remind this community of the dangerous consequences of Islamophobia and hatred, a community that is blessed with the Abu Salha and Barakat families who lost their children and indeed, all of our children, three bright young lights, to the terrible consequences of this hatred. So, we are here to assert to our children and assert as proud American Muslims that we tell our sons and daughters to hold their heads high. We tell our sons and daughters to be unapologetically and proudly Muslim, to recognize that this country is theirs and this world has a place for them as it has a place for everyone else. We stand up not only for our rights but the rights of others as well.

We do this, my brothers and sisters, as Muslims with undying confidence that Allah is and always was and always will be in control. Allah said in the Holy Quran in Surah at-Tawbah, verse number 51 of the 9th Chapter:

قُل لَّن يُصِيبَنَا إِلاَّ مَا كَتَبَ اللّهُ لَنَا هُوَ مَوْلاَنَا وَعَلَى اللّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ

Say, "Nothing will befall us except that which Allah has decreed for us. He is our Protector and upon Allah, let the believers rely."

And the Prophet, صلى الله عليه و سلم, shared some beautiful advice with one of the companions and us with him. He said,

  وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ الأُمَّةَ لَوْ اجْتَمَعَتْ عَلَى أَنْ يَنْفَعُوكَ بِشَيْءٍ لَمْ يَنْفَعُوكَ إِلَّا بِشَيْءٍ قَدْ كَتَبَهُ اللَّهُ لَك

وَ إِنِ اجْتَمَعُوا عَلَى أَنْ يَضُرُّوكَ بِشَيْءٍ لَمْ يَضُرُّوكَ إِلَّا بِشَيْءٍ قَدْ كَتَبَهُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْكَ ، رُفِعَتِ الأَقْلَامُ وَجَفَّتْ الصُّحُفُ

The Prophet, صلى الله عليه و سلم, says, "Know, that if the entire ummah, the entire world were to gather to benefit you with something, they would not benefit you except with something that Allah has decreed for you and if they gathered that they would harm you with something, they would not harm you except with something that Allah had decreed upon you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried."

So my brothers and sisters, this very concept that the ayah speaks about, this concept of tawakkul, gives the believer's heart solace and comfort in what they love of dunya and what they detest of dunya. It gives the believer comfort when they're met with the things that we love and it extends them with patience and thabaat and steadfastness when Allah tests us with something that we detest.

But tawakkul, my brothers and sisters, is not an invitation for laziness .Dare I say, it is not an invitation to blame al-Qadr or blame others for our own problems. Tawakkul is an invitation for our hearts to find comfort in Allah's decree after we have done our part.

So before we start working to what is better, we have undying confidence that Allah is in control and after we do everything in our ability to work for better outcomes, then we trust that those outcomes are in Allah's سبحانه وتعالى hands.

My brothers and sisters, ultimately, with this change and this uncertainty, we are certainly facing difficulties here in America and across the world, in war-torn Syria and Yemen, parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan and al-Iraq and Somalia, in Burma and all across other parts of the world.

My brothers and sisters, there is a part of this reflection that is global and looks at heads of State, but I want to start today with a reflection that is deeply personal and much more uncomfortable, that ultimately, what we see in the world today is a reflection of what is in our own hearts.

My brothers and sisters, it is on our watch that there are more refugees today than in any time in human history. It is on our watch that statements of bigotry and hatred have become acceptable on the news until we don't know, "Can we turn on the TV with a child in the room?"

And Allah عز وجل mentions this in His Holy Book, in Surah ar-Ra'ad.

Allah عز وجل says,

إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُواْ مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ

"That Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change that which is within their own hearts."

So, the good and bad of our leaders are a reflection of us, the people who give them power and we, the people, are a reflection of our leaders as well. It is a statement of the condition of our hearts and the weakness of our iman that so many people today live in tyranny and oppression and wrongdoing.

My brothers and sisters, I shared a word earlier for our young people and our children. Much of what I speak about today is a message and a reminder for the most vulnerable amongst us. I want to remind them that our religion gives us an undying commitment to ethics and values, even when others might forget them.

Allah عز وجل said in Surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2, verse number 256,

لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَي

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.

That even in something so important as iman and believing in Allah, Allah gave people a choice and told us not to enforce those things upon others forcefully.  So it goes with the right to life and the right to human rights and the right to liberty and so many other rights. These, for us, are not only protected as Americans, as human beings, as people of conscience, but these are sacred things that are protected by Allah عز وجل Himself. For us, it is part of our religion. Our Prophet, صلى الله عليه و سلم, said so many years before countless others that people are not distinguished among one another by what parents they are born to or the color of their skin.

He said, عليه الصلاة و السلام,

 أَلَا لَا فَضْلَ لِعَرَبِيٍّ عَلَى أَعْجَمِيٍّ وَلَا لِعَجَمِيٍّ عَلَى عَرَبِيٍّ وَلَا لِأَبْيَضَ عَلَى أَسْوَدَ وَلَا لِأَسْوَدَ عَلَى أَبْيِضْ إِلَّا بِالتَّقْوَى

He said, "There is no favor to an Arab over a non-Arab or a non-Arab over an Arab or a white man over a person of color or a person of color over a white person except for by taqwa (God consciousness)."

None of us knows the taqwa of another human being. The basis in our religion is that we treat people based on justice and equality and ethics. But a reminder even to those that are not of the Islamic faith - This country and its laws protects the rights of people, including Muslims. Even as people struggled with slavery and many violations, the founding fathers recognized Islam as a religion. They called them, "Mohammedans" which is not the proper term but they recognized it and they talked about it in the context of religious freedom. Thomas Jefferson himself had a copy of the Quran in his library.

So we say to the bigots and the perpetrators of hatred that while it might get you an extra dollar or an extra vote, it neither makes us more safe nor is it the ethics that we're committed to as Muslims and alongside countless others. I want every person in this room and those that are beyond this room to refuse to give in to the narrative of helplessness. To say that these are big forces that we cannot affect. We can have a powerful effect by doing our part to educate against this hatred and to give people a better path, the path that our religion and indeed, values and conscience call for.

My brothers and sisters, the Prophet, صلى الله عليه و سلم, and the Quran cautioned against painting people with a broad brush. In Surah ali-Imran, Allah عز وجل says,

لَيْسُواْ سَوَاء

“They are not all the same.”

And the Prophet, عليه الصلاة و السلام, says

إذا سمعتم الرجل يقول هلك الناس فهو أهلكُهم

That “If you hear a person saying, "All people are ruined", that he himself is the most ruined of all of them.”

So our religion forbids against painting people with a broad brush and giving in to despair. Our religion is a religion of hope and optimism and insistence on values even if we're the only ones doing so.  There's a hadith of the Prophet عليه الصلاة و السلام that I want you to reflect on in a way that perhaps you've never reflected on before.

I was blessed the other day to be addressing the Association of Executives of North Carolina, an organization of business and leaders across industries, CEOs and Executives across industries from chiropractors to medicine to trade to manufacturing. Most of them were older, highly educated, highly accomplished. We spoke about Islam. They asked questions, many of them having never really had an opportunity to learn about Islam before. We expected the event to take only hour but it took two and a half hours. A person came to me afterwards, one of the heads of his company and he said, this message that touched two dozen today should touch millions and the only way it will is one person at a time. I smiled, because his reflection echoed the words of the Prophet, صلى الله عليه و سلم, that I had never thought about in that way before.

Sahl ibn Sa’d reported that the Prophet, عليه الصلاة و السلام, said,

وَاللَّهِ لَأَن يَهْدِيَ اللَهُ بِكَ رَجُلاً وَاحِدًا خَيْرٌ لَكَ مِنْ حُمْرِ النَّعَم

I swear on Allah, it will be better for you that Allah should give guidance to one man through your agency than that you should acquire the red ones among the camels (Related by Abu Dawud).

The Prophet said that one person be guided through you, one perspective changed, one person educated, one heart opened, one mind expanded is better for you than, he said, "حُمْرِ النَّعَمِ". "حُمْرِ النَّعَمِ" meaning the best of camels, which were like luxury cars at the time. In another narration he said, "better than the dunya and what is in it." Better than the whole world and what is in it.

So my brothers and sisters, if nothing else, perhaps this difficulty might awaken many of us from our slumber. Our fantasies of building bigger homes and buying more cars and living in our caves not caring for anyone. Perhaps, these difficulties will awaken some of us to change hearts and minds one person at a time.

I pray to Allah سبحانه وتعالى that He guides us and guides through us and makes us a cause for those that are guided along.

[End of first part]

My brothers and sisters, we've been talking about daring to dream in times of despair.  This is our religion that empowers us in times of ease and hardship, that empowers us to be optimistic, that empowers us to be forward-looking when others are stuck in the moment. I want to close with a couple practical tips because I know many of our families are struggling, especially the youngest amongst us, to process these times of change and difficulty.

Just this week, in the news, it was said in a school classroom at lunch hour, some children were picking on people of Latino descent, shouting, "Build that wall, build that wall!" I told you about a ten-year-old that was called a terrorist and there have been so many other incidents. .These incidents are meant to divide, play right into the hands of those lesser voices in our midst. So we must use these opportunities to educate and have these conversations together.

My brothers and sisters, tonight, Inshaa Allah, we'll take one step towards that by having an open forum during College Night, talking about opportunities to organize and help build towards more understanding and a more inclusive and to define our religion for ourselves. Several members of the community in the behavioral and mental health profession are starting to open support groups. Young couples and families are getting together talking about how can we help our children. I encourage you to take part and contribute in these efforts and perhaps, Inshaa Allah, you'll be hearing about more and more of them through social media and through the email list and the announcements here at the masjid.

But no one in our community or beyond should feel isolated or vulnerable. Many times when a harmful word or a detestable speech or intimidating tactics are used, the objective is to instigate a fight. The best course of action is not to give it to them but that doesn't mean that any young person here needs to feel alone or doesn’t take lawful means to protect themselves. I encourage parents to have the courage to open these conversations on the dinner table, to talk to your children about what's going on during their school day and who talked to them and to know that you have resources around you. Here at the masjid, we are open arms to support. At many schools, there are counseling resources and administrators whose job it is to do this. And as we are working with education or politics or any people and institutions that we work with, they have an obligation to treat people equally, and we will hold them to task. There are advocacy organizations such as CAIR and other social justice organizations who are there to help, if anyone feels that they are the target of discrimination or of unfair treatment, there are people and resources available for you to stand up for your rights. Insha Allah, we encourage all of you and we will work and endeavor to educate one another on these types of resources and steps we can take to be safe but also to make the best of these dark moments.

If there is anything that has given me hope in these times, one of the brightest spots of these moments is that there is a younger generation who in increasing numbers are refusing to see this be the world that they grow up in, a world of hatred and bigotry. So I say to our students from Elementary and Middle School, to Al-Iman and Al-Furqan and An-Noor, to all of our students, that if you are really upset about what you've heard, then one of the steps to take is to excel in your studies and be the best at what you can be. If you're not working hard, then you're not serious about being upset.

I say to the College and High School students and to young professionals, many of our parents worked in service professions to put food on the table and pay for our education to have more opportunities than they had.  If you’re blessed to work at a shop, or in a trade, or as a merchant – you share a profession that a prophet performed, and have a golden opportunity to touch people through your interactions.  If you want to be an engineer or a doctor, don’t settle for anything than the very best you can be. Even still, more Muslims need to open your possibilities and consider the humanities where we Muslims have an opportunity to define their own narrative for themselves.

One of the positive signs is that increasingly, especially under the age bracket of 25 and under, people are overwhelming in criticizing this hatred and bigotry. I encourage those who Allah has blessed with material wealth and our parents to pave these paths for your children. Encourage them to excel, encourage them to be proud and to make the most of the sacrifices that many of you made so that they can achieve heights that our older generation paved the way for them to achieve, Inshaa Allah.

So I pray to Allah سبحانه وتعالى that He uses us, Inshaa Allah, to create an environment in a world of inclusiveness and justice and ethics as our religion teaches us. I pray to Allah سبحانه وتعالى to grant us firm tawakkul and trust in Allah. I ask Allah عز وجل to ease the fear in our hearts and to allow us to be optimistic and to work to improvement. I ask Allah عز وجل to protect our children and protect our spouses and protect the most vulnerable amongst us. I ask Allah to guide us to that which is most pleasing to Him and to guide us to justice, to show us truth as truth and to bless us to follow it and to show us falsehood as falsehood and to bless us to avoid it.

[Ending Dua]