Friday, May 26, 2023

The Gift of Tranquility

 {و اتقوا الله و اعلموا أن الله مع المتقين} البقرة ١٩٤

Be God-conscious and know that God supports those who are God conscious

In our age of anxiety, we can rarely find peace of mind without Divine assistance, which takes the form of tranquility (in Arabic = سكينة). This quietude descends upon the faithful to give them a temporary sense of peace, albeit short of serenity (in Arabic = طمأنينة), the permanent station that we hope to reach before we die. 

Ibn Qayim al-Jawziya recounted in his quasi-Sufi manual مدارج السالكين that whenever he or his teacher Ibn Taymiya felt anxious or disturbed, they would contemplate the six verses of the Qur'an in which tranquility = سكينة is mentioned ... and this is the plan for my sermon today.

The Prophet (p) advised us to conjure up a human version of this tranquility as we travel to the mosque:

روى البخاري و مسلم: عن أَبَي هُرَيْرَةَ  ( سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ  صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ  يَقُولُ  إِذَا أُقِيمَتْ الصَّلَاةُ فَلَا تَأْتُوهَا  تَسْعَوْنَ  وَأْتُوهَا تَمْشُونَ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّكِينَةُ فَمَا أَدْرَكْتُمْ فَصَلُّوا وَمَا فَاتَكُمْ فَأَتِمُّوا ).

[Bukhari and Muslim narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayra that the Prophet (p) said: "When prayer is called, do not approach it in a rush, but walk calmly with tranquility upon you; then pray whatever you catch and make up whatever you miss."]

Then, as we contemplate the Qur'an here, actual Divine tranquility = سكينة would descend upon us:

روى مسلم: عن أبي هريرة (… وَمَا اجْتَمَعَ قَوْمٌ فِي بَيْتٍ مِنْ بُيُوتِ اللَّهِ يَتْلُونَ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ وَيَتَدَارَسُونَهُ بَيْنَهُمْ إِلَّا نَزَلَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ السَّكِينَةُ وَغَشِيَتْهُمْ الرَّحْمَةُ وَحَفَّتْهُمْ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَذَكَرَهُمْ اللَّهُ فِيمَنْ عِنْدَهُ…)

[Muslim narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayra that the Prophet (p) said: "Whenever a group gather in one of the houses of God, reciting His scripture and studying it, then tranquility descends upon them and angels gather around them and God mentions them among His host."]

The first verse that mentioned tranquility = سكينة appears in the second chapter of the Qur'an, and connects directly to the Hebrew version of the word = Shekhinah, tied to the Israelite tabernacle (the tent that served as their mobile temple) and the ark of the covenant (in Arabic = التابوت), which is described as "carried by angels", in possible reference to the ancient-Egyptian-style cherubim decorations the Israelites had carved on its lid:

{وَقَالَ لَهُمْ نَبِيُّهُمْ إِنَّ آيَةَ مُلْكِهِ أَنْ يَأْتِيَكُمُ التَّابُوتُ فِيهِ سَكِينَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ و بقية مما ترك آل موسى و آل هارون تحمله الملائكة إن في ذلك لآية لكم إن كنتم مؤمنين} البقرة ٢٤٨

[And their Prophet (Samuel) told them: "The sign of his kingship is that the ark (of the covenant) will come to you, in it (you will find) tranquility = سكينة from your Lord, and relics from the families of Moses and Aaron, carried by angels. This will surely be a sign for you if you have faith.]

The context, recounted in the biblical books of Samuel, is that the Israelites had carried the Ark to battle up North, where they lost it, causing great anxiety that God had abandoned them. Thus, the Prophet Samuel told them that Saul (in Arabic = طالوت) will be their king, and that recovering the Ark will be a sign that this was God's will, and that He had not abandoned them.

The next two mentions of tranquility = سكينة are in the 9th chapter, and they recount, in reverse chronological order, two tests that could have meant the end of Islam. The first is the battle of Hunayn, in the 8th year after Hijra, shortly after the Muslims had entered Makkah without fighting, and thought that they were finally safe. Then allied tribes, including the mighty Hawazin and Thaqif, came to attack them in Makkah, but the Prophet (p) decided to meet them outside, in the direction of Ta'if:

{لقد نصركم الله في مواطن كثيرة و يوم حنين إذ أعجبتكم كثرتكم فلم تغن عنكم شيئاً و ضاقت عليكم الأرض بما رحبت ثم وليتم مدبرين * ثُمَّ أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ وَعَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَأَنْزَلَ جُنُودًا لَمْ تَرَوْهَا وَعَذَّبَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَذَلِكَ جَزَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ} التوبة ٢٥-٢٦

[God has helped you on many fields, and on the day of Hunayn, when you were proud of your numbers, but they did not help, and the vast land seemed to collapse on you, and you turned in retreat. Then God sent down His tranquility = سكينة upon His messenger and the faithful, and He sent down forces that you did not see, and He punished the unfaithful, for such is the fate of the unfaithful.]

The second mention of tranquility = سكينة in the 9th chapter goes back to the migration of the Prophet (p) from Makkah to Madinah. He and Abu Bakr (r) were hiding in a cave (غار ثور) from the idolators who had caught up to them. Abu Bakr (r) told the Prophet (p): "If one of them just looks at his sandals, he would surely see us," and the Prophet's (p) answer was immortalized in the Qur'an:

{إلا تنصروه فقد نصره الله إذ أخرجه الذين كفروا ثاني اثنين إذ هما في الغارإِذْ يَقُولُ لِصَاحِبِهِ لَا تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَيَّدَهُ بِجُنُودٍ لَمْ تَرَوْهَا و جعل كلمة الكافرين السفلى و كلمة الله هي العليا و الله عزيز حكيم} التوبة ٤٠

[You are not the ones who help him, for God had already helped him, (for example) when the unfaithful expelled him; he was the second of two in that cave, and he said to his companion: "Do not grieve, for God is with us," then God sent down His tranquility = سكينة, and supported him with forces that you did not see; and He made the word of the unfaithful the lowest and God´s word the highest; for God is mighty and wise.]

The last three mentions of tranquility = سكينة appear in the 48th chapter, which chronicled a time of great anxiety after  the treaty of Hudaybiya, which was heavily biased in favor of the idolators, but miraculously turned out to be a blessing in disguise. So, we conclude with those three verses:

{هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ السَّكِينَةَ فِي قُلُوبِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ لِيَزْدَادُوا إِيمَانًا مَعَ إِيمَانِهِمْ و لله جنود السموات و الأرض و كان الله عليماً حكيما} الفتح ٤

[It is He who sent down tranquility = سكينة into the hearts of the faithful, thus to increase their faith. TGod belong the forces of the heavens and the earth; God is knowing and wise]

{لقَدْ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذْ يُبَايِعُونَكَ تَحْتَ الشَّجَرَةِ فَعَلِمَ مَا فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ فَأَنْزَلَ السَّكِينَةَ عَلَيْهِمْ وَأَثَابَهُمْ فَتْحًا قَرِيبًا} الفتح ١٨

[God was well pleased with the faithful when they gave you their covenant under the tree. He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down tranquility = سكينة upon them, and rewarded them with near victory.]

{إِذْ جَعَلَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الْحَمِيَّةَ حَمِيَّةَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ وَعَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ و ألزمهم كلمة التقوى و كانوا أحق بها و أهلها و كان الله بكل شيء عليما} الفتح ٢٦

[When the unfaithful ignited in their hearts the fierceness of ignorance, then God sent down His tranquility = سكينة upon His messenger and the believers, and made them steadfast in God consciousness, of which they were the most deserving, and God knows all.]

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Serenity and Contentment at Dawn

 This is a draft for my sermon this week:
‏روى مسلم عَنْ ‏ ‏الْعَبَّاسِ قال‏ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ‏(ص) ‏‏ذَاقَ طَعْمَ الْإِيمَانِ مَنْ رَضِيَ بِاللَّهِ رَبًّا وَبِالْإِسْلَامِ دِينًا ‏ ‏وَبِمُحَمَّدٍ ‏ ‏رَسُولًا 

[Muslim narrated on the authority of Al-`Abbas; the Prophet (p) said: "One has tasted faith who is content with God as lord, Submission as religion, and Muhammad as messenger."]

"Tasted faith," the Prophet (p) said, and taste is a temporary state = حال. This is the starting point of faith, but it guides us to the permanent station of Contentment = مقام الرضا, which is the final objective of faith.

The 89th chapter of the Qur'an brings glad tidings to those who achieve this station: "O soul at peace, return to your Lord, content and satisfied. Join with My worshipers into My heaven.(27--30)

It is often challenging to find serenity and contentment. So, the beginning of the chapter points to special times for solitary restoration, starting with the most hopeful time of all -- dawn, when darkness yields to light (1--5):
و الفجر
By the dawn
و ليال عشر
;and ten nights
و الشفع و الوتر
by the even and the odd
و الليل إذا يسر
.and by the passing of the night
هل في ذلك قسم لذي حجر
?Are these not significant for the mindful
This is consistent with the Prophetic tradition:

‏روى البخاري عَنْ ‏ ‏أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ‏ ‏عَنْ النَّبِيِّ ‏ ‏(ص) ‏ ‏قَالَ ‏... وَاسْتَعِينُوا ‏ ‏بِالْغَدْوَةِ ‏ ‏وَالرَّوْحَةِ ‏ ‏وَشَيْءٍ مِنْ ‏ ‏الدُّلْجَةِ 

[Bukhari narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayra that the Prophet (p) said: "... and seek support at the beginning and end of each day, and part of the night.]

Corruption, oppression and injustice disturb our peace. But the chapter goes on to teach that we should adopt different timeframes when thinking about these civilization-scale issues. The only constant is change, but it happens at its own pace — over centuries, not lifetimes or years. We are thus reminded in this chapter how major changes have evolved over centuries (6--14)

ألم تر كيف فعل ربك بعاد
,Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with `Ad
إرم ذات العماد
,Iram of the great pillars
التي لم يخلق مثلها في البلاد
;the like of which had not been created
و ثمود الذين جابوا الصخر بالواد
,and Thamood, who carved rocks in the valley
و فرعون ذي الأوتاد
;and Pharaoh, with the massive tents
الذين طغوا في البلاد
those who transgressed in their nations
فأكثروا فيها الفساد
,and multiplied corruption therein
فصب عليهم ربك سوط عذاب
;and thus your Lord poured severe punishment upon them
إن ربك لبالمرصاد
!for your Lord is ever watchful
Of course, we should not confuse contentment with inaction. On the contrary, being content with God's decree is conducive to good action, even as we acknowledge that only God can change the world. In one narration of the long Hadith of `Abdullah ibn `Abbas, the Prophet (p) teaches him:
فإنِ استطعتَ أن تعملَ للهِ بالرضا مع اليقينِ فافعل ، فإن لم تستطع فإنَّ في الصبرِ على ما تكرهُ خيرًا كثيرًا 
[If you can work with contentment and certainty, then that is better; but if you cannot, then there is much good in perseverance through what you dislike.]

In the holy tradition (حديث قدسي) narrated by Bukhari on the authority of Abu Hurayra:
قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ ‏ ‏يُؤْذِينِي ابْنُ ‏ ‏آدَمَ ‏ ‏يَسُبُّ الدَّهْرَ وَأَنَا الدَّهْرُ بِيَدِي الْأَمْرُ أُقَلِّبُ اللَّيْلَ وَالنَّهَارَ 
[Allah (s) said: The son of Adam insults Me by cursing time. But I Am Time, I control all, and alternate nights and days.]
The chapter then turns to the individual human time scale, the most relevant for us (15--20):
فأما الإنسان إذا ما ابتلاه ربه فأكرمه و نعمه
فيقول ربي أكرمن
As for man, whenever his Lord tries him
,with honors and blessings
;then he says: My Lord has honored me
و أما إذا ما ابتلاه فقدر عليه رزقه
فيقول ربي أهانن
,but when He tries him with restricted provisions
.then he says: My Lord has humiliated me
كلا بل لا تكرمون اليتيم
,No! You honor not the orphan
و لا تحاضون على طعام المسكين
,and you enjoin not feeding the needy
و تأكلون التراث أكلاً لما
and you devour inheritance voraciously
و تحبون المال حباً جما
.and you love wealth unreasonably

This juxtaposition is reminiscent of the admonition of Ibn `Ata'-Illah:
اجتهادك فيما ضمن لك و تقصيرك فيما طلب منك دليل على انطماس البصيرة منك
[Your striving for what He has guaranteed for you and falling short on what He has required of you is a proof that your inner sight is blind.]

The chapter concludes by describing opposite destinations for the faithless and the faithful (21--26)

كلا إذا دكت الأرض دكاً دكا
No! When the earth is pounded into dust
و جاء ربك و الملك صفاً صفا
,and your Lord comes amidst ranks of angels
و جيء يومئذ بجهنم، يومئذ يتذكر الإنسان و أنى له الذكرى
;and hell is brought forth
!then man will remember -- and what a remembrance
يقول يا ليتني قدمت لحياتي
.He will say: I wish I had forwarded for my true life
فيومئذ لا يعذب عذابه أحد
On that day, none other shall punish him
و لا يوثق وثاقه أحد
.and none other shall bind him

Abdul-Qader Al-Jailani mentioned in his exegesis of this verse that self punishment through regret is the worst. This is the fate of souls that do not find serenity and contentment.

As for those who do, may we be among them (27--30): 

يأيتها النفس المطمئنة
,O soul at peace
ارجعي إلى ربك راضية مرضية
;return to your Lord, content and satisfied
فادخلي في عبادي
Join with My worshippers
و ادخلي جنتي
.into My Heaven