Friday, September 24, 2021

Our Bequest -- A Sermon

 This is a draft of my sermon planned for later today at ISGH.

يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَقُولُوا قَوْلًا سَدِيدًا يُصْلِحْ لَكُمْ أَعْمَالَكُمْ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَمَنْ يُطِعِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ فَازَ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا
[O, people of faith, be God conscious and make your speech carefully aimed, so that your actions may be felicitous and your sins may be forgiven, and whoever obeys God and his Messenger has won a great reward. 33:70]

This same formula of God consciousness and carefully aimed speech also occurs with reference to our greatest worldly fear: our children.
وَلْيَخْشَ الَّذِينَ لَوْ تَرَكُوا مِنْ خَلْفِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّةً ضِعَافًا خَافُوا عَلَيْهِمْ فَلْيَتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْيَقُولُوا قَوْلًا سَدِيدًا
[And let those fear who, if they left behind them weak seed, would be afraid on their account, so let them be God conscious and make their words carefully aimed. 5:9]

I have struggled with this verse for several weeks. It is revealed in the midst of verses dealing with inheritance. The verse just before it instructs those administering distribution of the estate of a deceased person to give a portion to non-heir relatives, orphans and poor people who may be present at the time of distribution, and to say kind words to them.

So, the central verse for this sermon "let those fear..." seems on the surface to remind us that those whom we love may someday be orphans, poor, etc. and thus the verse reinforces the injunction to be kind and charitable to them. Indeed, some exegetes, e.g. Al-Qurtubi quotes Al-Hasan making this inference, and citing the Prophetic Tradition:
عن أبي هريرة عن النبيّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: "من أحسن الصدقةَ جاز على الصراط ومن قضى حاجة أرْمَلة أخلف الله في ترِكَته"
[Abu Hurayra narrated that the Prophet (p) said: "Whoever is generous in their charity will pass their test on the day of judgment, and whoever takes care of a widow will have their rewards deferred to their heirs."]

Al-Qushairi went further in his exegesis to emphasize that God said "let them be God conscious," not "leave them money," but this is in reaction to the most dominant strand in exegeses, which is to say that the verse relates to people who may urge a person near death to give away all or most of their estate to charity, saying "your children will be of no use to you in the afterlife, so give it all to charity," and the admonition, the vast majority of exegetes say is meant to warn such people to think of their own children who may need their inheritance to live well. 

Those who advocated such pragmatism cite the following Prophetic Tradition:
عَنْ  سَعْدِ بْنِ أَبِي وَقَّاصٍ  رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ  قَالَ  ( جَاءَ النَّبِيُّ  صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ  يَعُودُنِي  وَأَنَا  بِمَكَّةَ  وَهُوَ يَكْرَهُ أَنْ يَمُوتَ بِالْأَرْضِ الَّتِي هَاجَرَ مِنْهَا قَالَ يَرْحَمُ اللَّهُ  ابْنَ عَفْرَاءَ  قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أُوصِي بِمَالِي كُلِّهِ قَالَ لَا قُلْتُ فَالشَّطْرُ قَالَ لَا قُلْتُ الثُّلُثُ قَالَ  فَالثُّلُثُ وَالثُّلُثُ كَثِيرٌ إِنَّكَ أَنْ تَدَعَ وَرَثَتَكَ أَغْنِيَاءَ خَيْرٌ مِنْ أَنْ تَدَعَهُمْ  عَالَةً  يَتَكَفَّفُونَ النَّاسَ فِي أَيْدِيهِمْ وَإِنَّكَ مَهْمَا أَنْفَقْتَ مِنْ نَفَقَةٍ فَإِنَّهَا صَدَقَةٌ حَتَّى اللُّقْمَةُ الَّتِي تَرْفَعُهَا إِلَى  فِي  امْرَأَتِكَ وَعَسَى اللَّهُ أَنْ يَرْفَعَكَ فَيَنْتَفِعَ بِكَ نَاسٌ وَيُضَرَّ بِكَ آخَرُونَ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ يَوْمَئِذٍ إِلَّا  ابْنَةٌ  ).
[Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas said that the Prophet (p) came to visit him during his sickness in Makkah... Sa`d asked him if he can donate all his estate to charity, and the Prophet (p) said no, so he asked if he could donate half, and the Prophet (p) said no, so he asked if he can donate a third, and the Prophet (p) said: "A third, and a third is plenty: It is better to leave your heirs financially independent than to leave them dependent and asking others for charity..."]

The lesson on finances seems easy enough to resolve: To those who are too generous, we say "keep more for your children," and to those who are too stingy, we say "you need to give more." 

But my great concern is about the other inheritance that we leave or don't leave to our future generations: religion. Developing a viable modern understanding of this religion -- one that is compatible with contemporary physics, biology, psychology and ethics -- is difficult business for which we often have to sacrifice personal comfort and social standing. Selfishly, we can stick to the anachronistic religion that we learned, like our parents learned before us. But if we are that selfish, then we cannot blame our children if they don't find this anachronistic religion appealing to them. I accuse myself and the community at large: Are we consuming too much religious comfort now and taking too much to our afterlife, failing to leave enough viable religion for our children? They will need it when we pass away.