Islam and Secularism

[Following is a transcript of a Jumu’ah talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed].


For a Muslim man or a woman, there are a number of special difficulties that no other Muslim around him faces. The first difficulty that a young Muslim man or a woman faces on campus is what we call the force of secularism.

Secularism is a philosophy that teaches you to remove everything about Allah (swt) from your life, whether you know it or not. What does it teach you? It teaches you that the only thing that’s important in lives is that you are a good person to one another; that you’re kind, you don’t lie, you don’t cheat. You don’t steal, that you’re nice to your parents you’re nice to your friends, you’re nice to your neighbors. They tell you all that matters is that if you’re a good person, a good human being then that means that you must be a good Muslim.

There was a famous Shaykh, Shaykh Ahmed Ali (r) and he once said that I can summarize the tafseer of the entire Qur’an in one sentence. He meant that he could summarize the basic message of Qur’an Al kareem in one sentence and that is “to worship Allah (swt); to please Allah (swt) through His worship, to please the Prophet Muhammad (saw) by following his Sunnah, and to please the maklooq (creation) by doing its khidmat.” So what secularism does is that it takes you down and reduces you to only the last third. It makes you think that all you have to do is be a good person. It keeps you away from Allah (swt). It keeps you away from the book of Allah (swt). It keeps you away from the Messenger of Allah. It wants to keep you away from anything and everything that is divine in your life.

Now how do we know this?

All we have to do is look in our lives; in the classrooms, in the dorm rooms, when we’re with our friends how much do we think about Allah (swt)? Do we ever remember Allah anytime in our life? Or are we just regular students tugging along with our studies and the only time when we remember Allah is when we come for our Salah, maybe twice a day, maybe three times a day. The best of us may pray our Salah five times a day. But the rest of the time there’s no difference between us and the other students. There’s no difference between us and a non-muslim student. Why? Because we have removed Allah (swt) from our life. We have confined Allah (swt) to a few acts of worship and we never think about Him any other time.

Allah (swt) actually said in Qur’an:

O humanity! What has deceived you but your Pious Lord?

What has deceived you but your Kind and Generous Lord? Allah (swt) is so kind that He always wants us to turn to Him. In fact even those of us who sin, and you find that this is the situation of Muslims that if there’s a young Muslim man or a young Muslim woman who sins so you feel a sadness in your heart. Deep down in our heart we know that we did something wrong. We know we looked at something Allah (swt) wouldn’t have wanted us to look at. We went somewhere Allah wouldn’t have wanted for us to go to. We did something, or we listened to something which He wouldn’t have wanted us to listen. Deep down in the heart of that young man a sore spot develops. Deep down he feels bad. But very few of us would actually activate that part. Most of us just go into denial and we keep on doing all the sins that we ever do.

Why?

Because we are so distant from Allah. Sometimes we may think that Allah is so mad at me, I looked at this thing on the internet at night now how can I even bother to wake up for Fajr? What’s the point of waking up for fajr when I sleep in an impure condition? What’s the point of showing my face at Salah when I’ve been doing all these sin?

Shaytaan tries to trick us and tries to keep us away from worshipping Allah (swt) and makes us feel sad and depressed about the sins that we do. Well, listen to the Rehmah and Mercy of Allah (swt) in Qur’an.

In the following ayah Allah (swt) is addressing those people who committed wrong against themselves, those people who broke Allah (swt)’s rules, those people who broke His commandments, who sinned against His ways, who looked at things and did things that they shouldn’t have done. What does Allah (swt) tell them? Does He get angry with them? No! He says:

“O my servants, who have wronged themselves, do not despair the Mercy of Allah (swt)”

That know no matter how far you might have gone from Allah (swt), no matter how low you might have fallen, how down trodden you might feel, never despair the Mercy of Allah (swt). In fact, look at the way He addresses us: He calls us His ibaad. He still calls us His servants. It means even that person who sins against Allah (swt), who breaks His commands, Allah doesn’t divorce you. Allah doesn’t kick you out of the rank of His servants. More than that, Allah (swt) says “Ya ibaadi” He uses Ya in nisbat that O my beloved servants! It means that even if you sin against Allah, Allah still views you amongst His servants. He just wants us to turn to Him at any moment.

What we have to do is be sincere that we want to draw close to Allah. If we feel this emptiness in our lives, if we feel that we’re distant from Allah (swt). And this is, by the way, what all the worldly pleasures are about. Anything that everybody does in a university in America, and I graduated from a university in America, so I know all the things they do and so I know all the things that you do. Why do we do all the things that we do in a university? We just try to get some pleasure from it. And this is the American way of life; do whatever makes your heart happy, do whatever makes your heart content, do whatever gives you pleasure in this world. So if a Muslim follows this way of life then where is the noor of our imaan? Where is the light of his faith? But even more than that, Allah knew that even if a Muslim did want to do whatever makes her heart content, so He taught us in Qur’an:

“Know that only in the remembrance of Allah will your heart find peace and contentment”

Just look at that Muslim boy or girl who is sad or who is down, so she watches the TV, or she watches a movie, or she does anything like that. It doesn’t give her heart pure peace and contentment. In fact if you’re sad or depressed and you watch a movie, before you even know two hours have passed, you turn the TV off, and you’re still sitting there, you’re still sad, you’re still lonely. Because Allah (swt) has said in Qur’an that the only thing in this entire universe that is going to bring true peace, true happiness and contentment to your heart is through the dhikr of Allah, by remembering Him. The more and more we remember Allah (swt), the more and more we bring Him back into our life, the more we will want to worship Him.

Now listen to what I’m about to say carefully.

You should know that any man or a woman who has tasted the worldly pleasures, the pleasures that this world has to offer; there’s only one thing that can take you out if you really want to be taken out. If you want to leave your sins, if you’re ashamed about what you should do, if you think that Ya Allah (swt) I also want to be pleasing to You, I’m not happy when I do these things. I might get some temporary pleasure but immediately afterwards I feel bad. I feel weak. I feel empty inside.

If you feel this way then there’s only one thing that can take you out, because if you taste the pleasures of this world, the only thing that can take you out is if you taste the pleasures of Allah (swt). If you feel that pleasure in your Salah, if you feel that pleasure in your dhikr, if you feel that lazzat that sweet taste of being close to Allah (swt), it’s the only thing that can take a man or a woman out of their life of sin.

Example of a failing student

Obviously, to take yourself out you need something greater. Something better. Something that’s going to attract you. Now it’s very difficult to do this on your own. It’s almost impossible. Just take the example of a student who doesn’t study well. He slacks off. That’s another problem that most of us have. We don’t like to study. We cram at the last moment for our exams. But if you look at that student who studies at the last minute, he doesn’t do it alone. He goes with his friends, he goes to the library, he puts himself on a schedule because he knows I just have 2-3 days left for my exam and I have to study very hard. In fact, all of his friends, his parents, his family everybody will know not to call him on the cell phone because he’s not even going to bother to pick up. Even if his lovely friend, even if she calls him up on the cell phone, he won’t even pick up for her because he’s so focused.

It means that when you want to get yourself out of a rut, when you want to change yourself, when you want to make a progress, you need to plug yourself into a system. And that’s why all of you are in a university. You guys could have sat at home and read all these books on your own but you knew that nobody in the world would recognize you unless you plugged yourself into system.
So the same thing: Allah (swt) has put so much emphasis on jama’at, on the community in our deen. This is because if you can’t help yourself on your own, you need to help one another.

Look, all of us like to say that we want to follow the deen and dunya both. Everyone who studies in a university we have this claim that we’re going to follow both deen and the dunya. We should know that just like you are studying in a university means that you are a person of knowledge, now how many people in the world actually get a university education? You are probably the top 5% of the people as far as knowledge goes. So it means you also have to get a lot of knowledge of your deen. As much knowledge you are getting of this dunya, you must also get the same level of knowledge of your deen. Because unless you engage this deen at the same level as you engage the dunya, it will be hard for you to become close to Allah (swt). Allah and the deen would be something that your parents did, something you just come to jum’a out of habit, out of practice. It’s not going to win over your heart unless you engage it at a proper level.

Even in your electives, for example, if there’s someone over here who is studying Computer Science, but you take an elective course in philosophy so that philosophy course can’t be at a baby level. It also has to be at at a university level in order to engage you. So just like that if you are serious about your deen, you have to engage this deen at a serious level at your own university level.

Now how do you do that?

You have to ask around or find the people who can teach you the deen. If you cannot find scholarly teachers, then you have to form a study circle amongst yourself and you have to have a leader such that atleast she has some communication with a scholar. So the scholar can tell her ok you read such and such tafsir and such and such commentary of the Qur’an and you keep in touch with me and I’ll keep guiding you. Unless you establish circles of learning, circles of worship, community activity, you’re not going to be able to do it on your own. So what’s going to happen then is that the young Muslim man or the woman they are going to continue in their life of sin. You might offer your Salah every now and then, you might come to juma every now and then but inside you’re leading a whole other life.

Shaytaan has made it so easy in this day and age to do sin. All you need is a laptop and a cell phone. And almost every university student has a laptop and a cell phone. 30 years ago if man wanted to commit a particular sin, he wouldn’t even know where to go and how to go about doing it. It would have been so difficult in the society at that time. But today it is so easy to look at something you don’t want to look at. All you have to do is shut the door of your room, turn on your laptop and plug in the internet and shaytaan can take you to a virtual tour of every sin that is available in the world. And don’t think this something that affects a few of you. I know how many of you this affects. This affects almost all of you. This is our condition that we are so weak that we are unable to control our gaze. And then we fall asleep sad and depressed because we know that we have angered Allah (swt), we have displeased our Lord.

If you want to please Allah, if you want to bring Allah (swt) back in your life, you must become a person who watches over your heart who watches over your soul. And this is one of the major aspects of our deen which in Arabic we call Tazkiya. It means to purify your nafs, to purify your heart, to watch over yourself and save yourself from the temptations of the sins of the society around you. It means to become a person who remembers Allah.

I’m going to tell you very quickly two things that you can do, practically speaking.

1. Start thinking about Allah (swt), in any way you want, 24 hours a day.

Just think about Him. It’s just a simple mental exercise. Try to remember Him in your heart. Try to feel Him in your life. Because if you ask any man or a woman who commits sin, that the moment when you were committing sin did you remember Allah? She would say Allah (swt)? I had totally forgotten about Allah. I had forgotten about the book of Allah. I had forgotten about the Messenger of Allah. I had even forgotten that I am a person who believes in “la ilaaha illalla”.

So if you forget all of these things, how to you expect to be an abd Allah? How do you hope to live your life and carry yourself as a servant of Allah (swt)? So the first thing we have to do is to simply remember Allah more and more. And this is one of the greatest gifts you have of being a Muslim. In fact, all the people in America are just running around trying to fill in emptiness in their hearts. They have a void, an emptiness, a gap in their hearts because they don’t have imaan. And now they are just running around trying to invent different things to please themselves. How tragic is it that the Muslims who have this gift of imaan, this noor of imaan, the light of imaan, we don’t feel it in our hearts. And more than that, Allah (swt) engages us in such a dynamic way.

Had Allah wanted to He could have just created us and said “look I just created you, I sent you Qur’an, I sent you Sunnah. You know what to do. Now I’ll deal with you on the Day of Judgement”

But Allah (swt) does not pull back from the switches. He says in Qur’an:

“Know that Allah (swt) is with you wherever you are”

He has made Himself your companion in life. He is with you when you are sitting here, He is with you when you are at home, He is with you in the classroom, He is with you when you are in a state of purity, He is with you when you are in a state of impurity. He is with you when you are remembering Him. He is with you when you are unaware of Him. He is with you when you are worshiping Him. And He is even with you when you are sinning against His rules. Allah (swt) never pulls back from the believer. He is just waiting for you to turn back to Him. Even more, Allah went one step further and said:

“O my servants, know that I’m closer to you than your jugular vein”

It means that O my servants I’m closer to you than your ownself. Look at this incredible Mercy of Allah. None of us would want to be around a person who is ugly, or smelly. None of us would want to be around a person who is filthy. Imagine how ugly and filthy we all are because of our sins and how distant we are from Allah (swt). But even then, even for the most sinning, Allah (swt) has given His gift. The gift is His companionship. The gift is His qurb. The gift is His nearness in proximity. If Allah (swt) is always with us, He is just waiting for us to call out to Him, to make dua to Him, then should we not today try to make a pledge, try to make a niyah, make an intention that we also want to fell Allah (swt) in our life. That O Allah truly I have wronged my soul. I have become so distant from You. I don’t even feel You in my Salah. I pray my Salah so absent mindedly. Ya Allah how diseased must my heart be, how filthy have I become that I am so distant from You. When I want to commit a sin, I close all the doors. I hide all my tracks.

One Shaykh used to say that O my friends! If when you commit a sin you close all the windows, you draw down the curtains and you close the doors. You make sure nobody is there. So you closed all the doors so no creation could see you, but you couldn’t close the door from which Allah (swt) could see you. What if Allah (swt) asks you that O my servant was I even less in your eyes than all of creation? Was I even less in your eyes than all these people who are walking around that you took such pains to hide your sins from them, but you had no shame in committing that sin in front of Me? When you knew that I was watching you, when you knew I knew everything that you did, even after I gave you the gift of My companionship, the gift of my qurb?

It means that Allah (swt) said in Qur’an: O humanity, what has deceived you but your Kind and Generous Lord?

2. Make sincere taubah

So today is the day for the young Muslim man and the young Muslim woman to turn back to Allah (swt). And this is where use the word taubah the word repent. Allah (swt) says:

“Atoobu ilallah” Allah (swt) uses the word “ila”. Ila is a particle which means towards Allah. It means that taubah is a paradigm shift. Leave all the dictates of society, of fashion, trends, whatever you think makes you cool and hip, and turn towards Allah (swt), turn towards His deen.

If you take even one step towards Him, if you even come to Him one hand span, Allah (swt) says in Hadith Qudsi that He comes to you an arm’s length. And if you come walking to Him, He comes running to you. It means that our Lord Allah (swt) is the most merciful of beings. He just wants us to draw close to Him. May Allah (swt) give all of us the ability today to pledge to bring Allah back into our life, that we will turn to Him sincerely in repentance, that we too want to be the people who please Him and who feel Him.


وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ


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