Khutbah: Friday 28 December 2018: Muḥāsabah – Taking Stock of Our Lives by Imam Dr. Rashied Omar

Khutbah: Friday 28 December 2018: Muḥāsabah – Taking Stock of Our Lives by Imam Dr. Rashied Omar

bismillahir rahmanir raheem

In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of GraceKhutbahClaremont Main Road Masjid

20th Rabi` al-Thani 1440
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By the Divine Grace of Allah, al-Muhyi al-Mumit – the Creator of Death and Life, we have reached the last Friday jumu`ahservice of the Gregorian Year 2018. In my khutbah today I would like to encourage each one of us to reflect on our personal lives during the past year, and resolve to make some positive changes during the New Gregorian year 2019.  My goal is to prompt all of us to be introspective about our personal achievements as well as our shortcomings, and to encourage us to give thanks to Allah, al-Ghafur al-Rahim – the Ever Forgiving and Most Compassionate, for our blessings, and seek Allah’s forgiveness and mercy for our trespasses, weaknesses and flaws. Such an introspective exercise, known in Islamic terminology as muḥāsabah, is a great virtue in Islam, and helps us to become better people as we become more self-reflective. In fact, it is my considered view that we should undergo such a thoughtful self-assessment process more than once a year, for rightly guided individuals are those who examine themselves and call themselves to account.

Muḥāsabah

The Islamic concept of muḥāsabah or more precisely muḥāsabah al-nafs i.e. self-accounting and personal introspection is well known and has been the topic of voluminous references and discussions by numerous classical Islamic scholars during every epoch.

One of the earliest Muslim scholars to specialize in this field of study is Abu `Abdullah Harith bin Asad al-Basri. He was born in Basra in the year 781, in contemporary `Iraq, and died in 857CE. In his writings he developed a complex moral psychology that provided the spiritual seeker with ways to understand egoism and vigilantly monitor one’s responses. Because of his pioneering scholarship on muḥāsabah as well as his personal piety he became famously known as Al-Muhasibi – The One Who Examines His Conscience. (For selections of al-Muhasibi’s writings see Michael Sells, Early Islamic Mysticism, New York, 1996).

The famous twelfth century Muslim scholar, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d.1111CE), also left his mark in this field. He wrote a personal testimony in which he painstakingly recorded the perils of his own spiritual struggle to subdue his ego and obtain enlightenment, under the suggestive title of; al-Munqidh min al-DalalDeliverer from Error. Imam Ghazali also dedicated a full chapter, Kitab al-Muraqaba wa’l Muḥāsabah (On Vigilance and Self-Examination) to this subject in his magnum opus, Ihya `Ulum al-Din (The Resuscitation of the Religious Sciences).

Muḥāsabah is derived from the Arabic root word ḥasiba, which means to consider, think, or reckon. It appears 109 times in 25 derivative forms throughout the Glorious Qur’ān. It appears most often in relation to the Day of Judgment which is also referred to as Yawm al Hisāb, the day on which all human beings will be held accountable for their deeds in this life (Qur’an 14:41; 38:16; 38:53; 40:27). The popular Qur’anic supplication found in verse 41 of Surah Ibrahim aptly captures this nuance to the meaning of the verb ḥasiba:

رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لِي وَلِوَالِدَيَّ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَوْمَ يَقُومُ الْحِسَابُ

Our Lord and Sustainer!

Grant Thy Forgiveness unto me, my parents, and all the believers,

on the Day on which the (last) Reckoning and Accountability

will come to pass. [Q14:41]

Moreover, one of the attributes ascribed to Allah is al-Hasib, meaning the Perfect Reckoner. The conclusion of verse 6 of Surah al-Nisa, chapter 4 and verse 39 of Surah al-Ahzab, chapter 33 reads as follows:

وَكَفَى بِاللَّهِ حَسِيبًا

Allah Suffices as a Reckoner [Q4:6 & Q33:39]

In other words, Allah is the one who keeps a complete account of all our deeds. Hence, as believers we are obliged to live our lives with muḥāsabah i.e. thoughtfully and introspectively.

In order to elucidate the concept further I would like to share the understanding of muḥāsabah by one of the most renowned classical commentators of the Qur’an, Isma`il ibn Kathir (d.1373CE). Ibn Kathir uses the concept of muḥāsabah to explain the meaning of verse 18 in Surah al-Hashr (The Gathering), chapter 59, in which Allah, the Sublime, proclaims:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْتَنْظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ

 وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

O Believers! Remain Conscious of Allah

And let every person consider carefully

What it has prepared or send forward for tomorrow.

And Remain Conscious of Allah,

For Truly Allah knows and is fully aware of whatsoever you do. [Q59:18]

Ibn Kathir interprets the above to mean ‘take account of your lives before God ultimately reckons with you’ (hasibu anfusakum qabla antuhasibu).

On the basis of ibn Kathir’s interpretation, we may understand this verse to mean that Allah exhorts us not to live heedless lives, but rather to live purposeful and intentional lives – to be introspective and aware of our own strengths and shortcomings, and to constantly look for ways and means to improve our lives. Ibn Kathir’s interpretation of Qur’an 59:18 encapsulates what it means to live one’s life with muḥāsabah.

The importance of this central Islamic concept of muḥāsabah emphasizes renewal, growth and hope. We look inward and we look back, and in doing so we find important tools and keys with which to build the foundation for the journey forward. During these last few days of 2018 I encourage all of us to take some time for muḥāsabah, to reflect on our personal lives during the past year, and resolve to make some positive changes in the New Gregorian year 2019. We give thanks to Allah, al-Ghafur al-Rahim – the Ever Forgiving and Most Compassionate, for our blessings and successes, and seek Allah’s forgiveness and mercy for our trespasses and flaws.

New Year’s Resolutions

Ideally, the conscientious Muslim is one who should resolve to be a better person each and every day, and not just once a year. Consequently, we should all have New Day resolutions, rather than New Year’s resolutions, that way each of us will be in a constant state of renewal and rebirth. This daily exercise in self-reflection need not be a long and tiresome task but rather a few minutes at the end of each day spent thinking about how our day has passed, what was beneficial and what was not, and whether we have achieved our daily goals.

Such an attitude and positive disposition for self-improvement and striving for excellence is affirmed and supported by a saying attributed to the pious tabi`i Al-Hasan al-Basri (d.728) who is reported to have advised us as follows:

“Every day when the dawn breaks, two angels call out:

O child of Adam! I am a new day and I witness your actions:

So seize this new opportunity of this new day to do what is good,

Because once I have gone, I will not return again until the day of judgment.”

Some skeptics may not see the value in having New Year’s resolutions, since they have grown accustomed to slipping up on them too many times in their own lives.

It is true, that as the year progresses and we once again become engrossed in our work and lives we become complacent and forget about the New Year’s resolutions we made. However, I remind you and myself that New Year’s resolutions are like good intentions. And Allah’s grace and compassion is such that He rewards us for these good intentions even if we fail to implement them. In a sacred prophetic tradition (hadith qudsi) recorded in the authentic collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said:

وعَنْ أبي العباس عبد اللَّه بن عباس بن عبد المطلب – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنهُ – عَنْ رَسُول اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم – فيما يروى عَنْ ربه – تَبَارَك وَتَعَالَى – قال: (( إن اللَّه تعالى كتب الحسنات والسيئات، ثم بين ذلك، فمن هم بحسنة فلم يعملها كتبها اللَّه تعالى عنده حسنة كاملة، وإن هم بها فعملها كتبها اللَّه عشر حسنات إِلَى سبعمائة ضعف إِلَى أضعاف كثيرة، وإن هم بسيئة فلم يعملها كتبها اللَّه عنده حسنة كاملة، وإن هم بها فعملها كتبها اللَّه سيئة واحدة ))

مُتَّفّقٌ عَلَيْهِ.

“Verily Allah recorded the good deeds and the bad deeds.”

Then he clarified how (recording occurs):

“Whosoever intends and resolves to do a good deed but does not do it,

Allah records it as a complete good deed;

but if he intends it and does it,

Allah records it as ten good deeds,

up to seven hundred times, or more than that.

If he intends and resolves to do an evil deed and does not do it,

Allah records it as a complete good deed;

but if he intends it and actually did it,

Allah records it down as one single evil deed

Maroot Reynolds in a pre-khutbah talk delivered at the Claremont Main Road Masjid on 7 September 2018 provides us with an innovative explanation of the above sacred prophetic tradition (hadith qudsi). Using the above text Maroot cogently argues that “Divine Justice is totally out of sync with secular justice, for in secular justice your reward and punishment for good and bad deeds is in proportion to what you have done. Both times you get what you deserve.” In Islam, however, the reward for a good dead is ten times its value and you even get a reward for changing your mind and not acting on a bad intention you may have had.

Maroot’s concludes his inspirational understanding of the above sacred prophetic tradition (hadith qudsi) as follows:

“In a life where you did about as much good as bad, you would end up with close to zero merit according to the world’s application of justice; while for exactly the same behavior in Islam you end up with a healthy positive balance.”

In line with the above positive Islamic teaching, we should not be deterred from making New Year’s resolutions through which we express our firm intent to live more conscientious and ethical lives. I therefore encourage all of us to make a modest list of New Year’s resolutions.

Our list of resolutions should be balanced and should include spiritual as well as physical, intellectual and social goals. For example, it would be commendable if one of our resolutions were to make more of our daily salahs on time or that in the coming year we will keep more voluntary (sunnah) fasts.

We should, however, not limit ourselves to these noble and worthy goals but also make some modest resolutions concerning our physical health and well-being, improving our inter-personal relations with members of our family and friends and advancing and improving our education.

I would especially like to encourage us to make New Year’s resolutions that will help us to transcend the self-centered culture that has become pervasive in our consumer driven society and to give more generously of ourselves by spending more time and energy to making a positive impact on the lives of others less fortunate than ourselves.

Let us also resolve to work harder to make a positive contribution towards bridging the class divide that remains at the root of gross inequality in our society.  

In conclusion, I call upon all of us to try and improve our lives by becoming more compassionate and caring human beings, insha-Allah.

Please join me at this sacred hour of jumu`ah in making in a special prayer (du`a):

(Ya Mujib al-Da`wat) ~ O Hearer of all duā’s,

As the dawn breaks on a new year, we thank You for the past year – for its goodness and blessings, and we ask for Your forgiveness where we may have failed.

We are grateful for the New Year 2019 and the potential it holds. We have our hopes and expectations for the year ahead and we ask for the strength and wisdom we may need to meet its challenges.

O Allah draw our hearts and close to You, guide our minds and help us to fulfill our duties toward You more diligently and devoutly.

 (Ya Rabb al Aman) ~ Our Lord and Protector,

We pray for the protection of our children, families and loved ones. Be ever present with them, and keep them safe from danger and violence.

O Allah where our families are broken, help us to release our grudges, our anger and our pain and live with each other in the most loving ways.

(Ya Rabb al-Shifa’) ~ Lord of Healing,

We pray for the elderly and infirm. May they find care and comfort during trying times.

O Allah we also ask You to guide those who are ill towards days of better health, to ease their suffering and grant them extra measures of patience and forbearance.

(Ya Rabb al-Quwwa) O One who is All-Powerful and Irresistible in Might,

As we go through our busy days, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our troubled world, and help us to respond with compassion and empathy to those who are marginalized and oppressed.

O Allah guide our leaders to use their power to serve the good of all and to fashion a more just and caring world.

Allahumma anta al-Salam – O Allah Thou art peace

wa minka al-Salam – and Peace emanates from Thee,

fa hayyina Rabbana bi al-Salam – Allow us to live and subsist in peace

We ask this in all of Your beautiful and holy names, Lord of all Humankind
Allahumma Amin.

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