Friday, February 04, 2005

Another Kind of Hijra

Notes from my Khutbah at Ryerson University - Feb 4, 2005

Last week I spoke about the Hijra, the historical event that took place during the life of the Prophet (SAW), and which demarcated the two phases of Prophethood - The Makkan and the Madinan Phase.

I explained that the Hijrah came after thirteen long years of persecution, where the small Muslim Ummah was constantly pounced upon by the Makkan elite; individual Muslims bore the brunt of these attacks - some were beaten, tortured and ridiculed; others were killed in brutal ways. The Prophet himself was not spared from the attacks of the Quraysh; and when he resolved to undertake the journey to Taif he was further humiliated and driven out from the city.

It was after these difficult years, and after the death of his beloved wife Khadija and his Uncle Abu Talib that the command came to emigrate. Those who left their homes, their wealth and the familiar surroundings of their beloved city and ventured to Madina have been honored for their struggle. In several places in the Qur'an, the Muhajiroon were mentioned as having exalted status, and that Allah is well pleased with them.

Today, the Hijrah remains in our collective memories as a unique journey from Makkah to Madina; it is etched within our psyche as the seminal event of the Prophet's life, a dividing line between truth and falsehood; between love and faith; between this world and the hereafter.

But there is another aspect of Hijra that is equally important for us today. After the blessed prophet migrated, he redefined the concept of Hijrah and made it an accessible struggle for each and every believer. He said " A Muslim is one from whose hands and tongue other muslims are safe, and a Muhajir is one who flees from Allah has prohibited."

By redefining Hijrah, and bringing into into the realm of the spiritual he (SAW) has given every Muslim the opportunity to smell the fragrance of faith and to experience the struggle of the early emigrants, without ever having to undertake a physical journey.

Allah's prohibitions, if indulged in constitute a sin against Allah, and an oppression of the soul. The heart is affected by each sin, to the extent that when a sin is committed, a black dot is placed on the heart. When such sins accumulate, the heart is covered with black dots, a veil is placed upon it and only the Mercy of Allah can reconstitute it.

Fleeing from sins therefore becomes a Hijra, a struggle to move from one state to another. When such a struggle is accomplished, oppression of the soul is rooted out, and the heart becomes free of the burdens of sin - like the physical Hijrah which rooted out the oppression by the Makkans and established a state of freedom for the believers.

If Hijrah then is such a spiritual voyaage, then Hijrah today is a multifaceted one. It is a constant struggle to move from one level to another with the ultimate goal of attaining Ihsaan, the highest level of faith.

There are four aspects of today's hijra that I wish to highlight:

A Hijra from a superficial understanding of Allah to an intense knowledge of His nature, attributes and essence. Every student would agree that a superficial knowledge of any subject matter will not get him or her anywhere. In order to succeed and make a difference in one's career, one must pursue an indepth knowledge of the subject, whether it is anthropology, physics, civil engineering etc.

Likewise, true knowledge of Allah will allow one to understand His nature and His Will as He causes it to unfold in this earthly domain. Such a knowledge will clearly establish one's place in the scheme of things, and the essential relationship between 'abd and ma'bud.

The second aspect of Hijrah is the Hijrah from a purely intellectual grasp of faith to one that encompasses the heart. When our knowledge transcends our 'Aql (intellect) and finds root in our Qalb (heart), then true faith becomes clear to us.

The Qalb is the locus of faith. When we can stand before Allah in the early morning, alone and trembling before Him, pouring our hearts out to Him and weeping inwardly before the tears flow from our eyes, then truly we have allowed our hearts to become alive with His presence. This initimate "knowing" of Allah is predicated by first an intelelctual knowledge ('ilm) and then by a spiritual knowledge (Ma'rifah). This kind of Hijrah is of paramount importance today, when much confusion surrounds us and clarity of faith is difficult to grasp.

The third aspect of Hijrah that we need today is a migration from the outward forms, the rituals to the inward meanings of our actions. For too long we have become obsessed with the rituals of Islam, the outward forms that are nevertheless important yet have no relevance without the inward spirit that encompasses it. The example of the change in the Qiblah during the Prophet's time established this concept very well. "It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East or West", the Qur'an declares, debunking the then prevalent arguments by the Jews about the change of the Qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah. The Qur'an then established the principles upon which righteousness stand - the fundamental principles of faith, followed by acts of kindness, prayer, charity, upholding of covenants and patience in times of ease and in adversity.

Outward rituals, if understood with their corresponding spirit, must create a transformation in ethics. Kindness and compassion are a necessary result of prayer, for example, because when one stands before the Creator, with an understanding of the Creator's Compassion towards all creatures, he is bound to internalize this quality.

The fourth aspect of Hijrah that we need today is a move away from victimhood to one of affirmative action. This was established by the Prophet himself and his companions during the early days of Madina, just after the Hijrah. To the man who felt burdened by debt and felt he had no opportunity to earn, the Prophet gave him an axe and a rope, and directed him to cut wood for sale. His affirmative action reversed his situation, and he was no more a victim of his social environment. The eminent Companion, Abdur Rahman bin Awf, instead of complaining of his straitened economic circumstances, asked for directions to the market where he began trading in asmall way. His affirmative action made him rise to become one of the most affluent men around the Prophet (SAW).

Hijrah today is more than a journey of the heart. It is a journey and a struggle that encompasses the spiritual, intellectual and physical domains of life. When one embarks upons such a journey, one is bound to experience the expanding horizons and to reveal another world that was hitherto unknown to him.

May Allah enable us to journey on, and may he make the struggle and the destination easy for us.



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