Friday, September 18, 2015

Walking into the desert

This is the draft of my khutba (Friday sermon) for this afternoon:

Roughly 2 million pilgrims are converging on Makkah. On Tuesday, they will move to the tent city in Mina, and then on Wednesday, they will go to the mount of Arafat to perform the central rite of Hajj.
For those of us who have not performed the Hajj, may we get a chance to be there. For those of us who have already fulfilled the requirement, please join me in thinking of another group.
Pilgrims pay substantial amounts, around $10,000 for each of the 10,000 or so Americans going to Hajj, and in many parts of the world, their entire life’s savings, to leave their homes and dwell in tent cities in the Arabian desert for five days.
Meanwhile, many more millions have been forcibly displaced from their homes, often after suffering life-altering losses in life and property, and with little or no hope of ever returning to their homes.
According to the UNHCR (the UN refugees agency), the number of displaced persons at the end of 2014 was 59.5 million people — and by now, the number must have exceeded 60 million. This is an all time high, nearly double what it was a decade ago.
This rise in the number of refugees is mainly due to conflicts in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and more than half the refugees are children. 
Most recently, Syria — historically one of the wealthiest and most educated regions on earth, the cradle of civilization, the seat of the mighty Umayyad dynasty — has become the largest producer of refugees — nearly 8 million internally displaced and nearly 4 million refugees seeking refuge in other countries. The second largest number of refugees come from Afghanistan, nearly 2.6 million, and Somalia at 1.1 million. Adding Iraq, Pakistan, Myanmar and other countries, it is clear that disproportionately most of the refugees and internally displaced persons are Muslims.
A Friday sermon is not the right place to focus on denouncing the war-mongers and the Muslim and non-Muslim states that feed the war machines that have resulted in massive carnage and displacement of Muslim and non-Muslim populations. Denounce we must, because the refugee problem in Europe, which grabs most headlines today, is only the tip of the iceberg, consisting of the relatively few tens of thousands who have managed to brave treacherous waters or mountains to make it to European borders. Many more millions stay behind, internally displaced or seeking refuge in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, etc. So, denounce we must, but we must also look at what we as individual Muslims can and should do.
Therefore, I want to return to the stark similarities and stark differences between the two experiences of groups, on the one hand, paying thousands of dollars to walk out into the desert and stay in tent cities, and those, on the other hand, who had to risk their lives by moving out of their homes, in order to avoid near certainty of death if they stay.
I want to focus on the individual Muslim and his choices. As I scanned opinions of scholars and laypeople last night on the issue of performing multiple pilgrimages, I noticed a rift between those (including numerous highly respected religious scholars) who had condemned it — because it increases crowds, and raises costs, thus preventing others from performing the obligation and increasing the risk of disease for those who go — and those who deflected the question by saying that acts of religious obedience should never be condemned, and that one should first look at those who waste their money on frivolous tourism and other spending, those who haven’t paid the right amount of zakah, etc. 
I will not even comment on the $20 billion being spent in the construction sector to attract more pilgrims, or the many more billions spent on buying weapons and supporting waring groups, sometimes on both sides of conflicts. And, of course, I am not commenting on those who are performing their first obligatory Hajj.
I want to use the contrast between the two groups walking out into the desert — one knowing that tents are waiting for them, and that there is a very good chance that they will make it back to their homes, and the other group, just hoping for food, water and shelter to last one more day — and to think of a Muslim who has to decide whether to pay $10,000 to go to Hajj one more time or to give a fraction of that money to support the refugees.
Please understand that I do not mean to condemn any particular personal choices. I mean to study the mindset of Muslims that may be behind our current state of affairs. 
As a social scientist, I turned to data. In the most recent World Values Survey, collected in 2013 and 2014, two questions were asked about the meaning of religion:
  • The first question (V150) went as follows: With which one of the following statements do you agree most? The basic meaning of religion is:
1 To follow religious norms and ceremonies 
2 To do good to other people 
While 71% of non-Muslims stated that the basic meaning of religion was to do good to other people, barely 51% of Muslims stated the same. The sample sizes were big enough (63,500 non-Muslims and 17,500 Muslims) for this result to be shocking.
This is in direct violation of the Hadith narrated by Tabarani:
 حَدَّثَنَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ  ، ثَنَا السَّرِيُّ بْنُ مِهْرَانَ  ، ثَنَا أَبُو مُعَاوِيَةَ عَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنُ قَيْسٍ  ، ثَنَا سُكَيْنُ بْنُ أَبِي سِرَاجٍ  ، ثَنَا عَمْرُو بْنُ دِينَارٍ  ، عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ  ، أَنَّ رَجُلا جَاءَ إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ، فَقَالَ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، أَيُّ النَّاسِ أَحَبُّ إِلَى اللَّهِ ؟ وَأَيُّ الأَعْمَالِ أَحَبُّ إِلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ ؟ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : " أَحَبُّ النَّاسِ إِلَى اللَّهِ أَنْفَعُهُمْ لِلنَّاسِ ، وَأَحَبُّ الأَعْمَالِ إِلَى اللَّهِ سُرُورٌ تُدْخِلُهُ عَلَى مُسْلِمٍ ، أَوْ تَكْشِفُ عَنْهُ كُرْبَةً ، أَوْ تَطْرُدُ عَنْهُ جُوعًا ، أَوْ تَقْضِي عَنْهُ دَيْنًا ، وَلأَنْ أَمْشِيَ مَعَ أَخٍ لِي فِي حَاجَةٍ ، أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِنْ أَنْ أَعْتَكِفَ فِي هَذَا الْمَسْجِدِ يَعْنِي مَسْجِدَ الْمَدِينَةِ شَهْرًا ، وَمَنْ كَفَّ غَضَبَهُ سَتَرَ اللَّهُ عَوْرَتَهُ ، وَمَنْ كَتَمَ غَيْظَهُ ، وَلَوْ شَاءَ أَنْ يُمْضِيَهُ أَمْضَاهُ ، مَلأَ اللَّهُ قَلْبَهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ رِضًا ، وَمَنْ مَشَى مَعَ أَخِيهِ فِي حَاجَةٍ حَتَّى يُثْبِتَهَا ، أَثْبَتَ اللَّهُ قَدَمَيْهِ يَوْمَ تَزُولُ الأَقْدَامُ " .
[On the authority of Ibn Umar, a man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and asked him, what people are most beloved to Allah, and what acts are most beloved to Him. The Prophet (pbuh) replied: "The most beloved people to Allah are the ones who are most beneficial to other people. And the best actions in the eye of Allah is happiness that you bring to a fellow Muslim, a problem that you solve for him, hunger that you feed, or debts that you repay. Indeed, to walk with my brother in his time of need is better for me than spending a month in seclusion in this (Madinah) mosque. Whoever can curb his anger, Allah will hide his faults, and one who curbs this anger when he can act on it will be rewarded on the day of judgement with a heart full of contentment..."]
  • The second question (V151) went as follows: And with which of the following statements do you agree most? The basic meaning of religion is: 
1 To make sense of life after death
2 To make sense of life in this world 
For this question, 67% of non-Muslims opined that the basic meaning of religion is to make sense of life in this world, but, again, only 51% of Muslims agreed.
Combined, nearly one third of Muslims, 31%, chose the first option in both questions (religion to them was basically about norms and ceremonies, and is about life after death), whereas the fraction was less than half, at 14.6% for non-Muslims.
 This is quite alarming. Lest we forget —
In the Qur’an, those who focus on ritual and make business of religion have been strongly chastised:
أَجَعَلْتُمْ سِقَايَةَ الْحَاجِّ وَعِمَارَةَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ كَمَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَجَاهَدَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ لَا يَسْتَوُونَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ 
[Do you consider providing water to pilgrims and keeping the Holy Mosque occupied the equivalent of having faith in Allah and the final day and struggling in His way? These are not equivalent in His eyes, and He does not guide transgressors.]
Muslim has narrated
4661 2569 حَدَّثَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ حَاتِمِ بْنِ مَيْمُونٍ حَدَّثَنَا بَهْزٌ حَدَّثَنَا حَمَّادُ بْنُ سَلَمَةَ عَنْ ثَابِتٍ عَنْ أَبِي رَافِعٍ عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَقُولُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ مَرِضْتُ فَلَمْ تَعُدْنِي قَالَ يَا رَبِّ كَيْفَ أَعُودُكَ وَأَنْتَ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ قَالَ أَمَا عَلِمْتَ أَنَّ عَبْدِي فُلَانًا مَرِضَ فَلَمْ تَعُدْهُ أَمَا عَلِمْتَ أَنَّكَ لَوْ عُدْتَهُ لَوَجَدْتَنِي عِنْدَهُ يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ اسْتَطْعَمْتُكَ فَلَمْ تُطْعِمْنِي قَالَ يَا رَبِّ وَكَيْفَ أُطْعِمُكَ وَأَنْتَ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ قَالَ أَمَا عَلِمْتَ أَنَّهُ اسْتَطْعَمَكَ عَبْدِي فُلَانٌ فَلَمْ تُطْعِمْهُ أَمَا عَلِمْتَ أَنَّكَ لَوْ أَطْعَمْتَهُ لَوَجَدْتَ ذَلِكَ عِنْدِي يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ اسْتَسْقَيْتُكَ فَلَمْ تَسْقِنِي قَالَ يَا رَبِّ كَيْفَ أَسْقِيكَ وَأَنْتَ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ قَالَ اسْتَسْقَاكَ عَبْدِي فُلَانٌ فَلَمْ تَسْقِهِ أَمَا إِنَّكَ لَوْ سَقَيْتَهُ وَجَدْتَ ذَلِكَ عِنْدِي
[On the authority of Abu Hurayra, the Prophet (pbuh) said that on the day of judgement, Allah will say "O, Son of Adam, I was sick and you didn't visit me." Man will answer: "Lord, how can I pay you a visit in sickness when you are the Lord of all worlds," and the Lord will reply: "Did you not know that my servant so and so was sick, and you didn't visit him; did you not know that had you visited him, you would have found me there?" "O, Son of Adam, I was hungry and you didn't feed me." Man will way: "Lord how can I feed you when you are the Lord of all the worlds," and the Lord will reply: "did you not know that my servant so and so was hungry, and you didn't feed him; did you not know that had you fed him, you would have found the same with me?" "O, Son of Adam, I was thirsty, and you didn't give me water." Man will say, "O, Lord, how can I give you water, when you are the Lord of all the worlds," and the Lord will reply: "Did you not know that my servant so and so was thirsty and you didn't provide him with water; did you not know that had you provided him with water, you would have found the same with me?"]
So, I leave you with these questions:
  • Have too many of us confused tools (acts of worship) and incentives (afterlife rewards or punishments) for ends in themselves?
  • In the process, have we become so selfish that even when we want to spend in the religious path, we end up spending on ourselves?


Blogger Parvez said...

Asak Dr. Gamal

You certainly raise a thought provoking question and the answer is by no means simple. On the survey, the result is not surprising (the response preferences) of Muslims v/s non Muslims), mainly because of the choice of responses for the framed questions.

Let us look at Question 1 - for a Muslim, both of them (answer choices) are equally important. Sincere Muslims firmly believe that following authentic religious norms and traditions would lead them to good for themselves and others. So when given a choice between the two, roughly half chose one over the other. As for non-Muslims, they have largely done away with their own religious traditions therefore it not surprising that they overwhelmingly chose "doing good to others" as their response

The same reasoning can be applied to the second question. Sincere Muslims believe what matters in the end is the hereafter for we are just travellers in this life. Having said that they also believe that the goal of the hereafter would be achieved through the life in this world. When given such choices, it is not surpassing that roughly 50% chose either responses. As for non-Muslims, many of them do not believe in the hereafter so it is not surprising what they chose.

Bottom line : One cannot conclude that religion is basically about norms and ceremonies for a majority of Muslims.

2:04 PM  

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