The Rahma Ethos
September 4, 2016
Assalamu Alaykum Dear Students,
I hope you receive this letter with the best of health, Iman, and Taqwa.
In this Labor Day weekend, Chicago witnesses two of the nation’s largest annual gatherings of Muslims. The ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) Convention takes place every year, usually during the Labor Day Weekend, often in Chicagoland. This year it will be in Rosemont. Likewise, the Mosque Cares convention takes place during the same weekend, almost always in Chicagoland. This year it will be in Tinley Park. I have been attending the conventions on and off for a few decades. It has been an experience watching the community transform over the years.
The key point I would like you to ponder over is that when you attend such a convention, with so many people, what you see will be as much an observation of what is before you as it is a reflection of what is within you. Imagine you are looking at a crowd of a thousand people. Think about what you notice in those thousand people. Some of what you notice might be the anomalies in the crowd. Some of what you notice might relate to what you expect to see (and then you see it).
Having said that, think of what you think of when you think of the Muslim community. Every year at the beginning of the year, students visit me, hesitant, because they want to connect with their Islam, but they are afraid of being judged. Many times, students assume they are being judged; that is a judgment in itself, is it not? If I assume or fear that people are judging me, then in fact I am the one judging them.
The fear of judgment is a natural fear. Despite the thousands of talks I have given, I still experience stage fright almost every time. Sometimes there is that one person in a crowd that provides inappropriate comments and criticism that then makes the space seem less tranquil. That person might be one in a hundred. The other ninety-nine people might be perfectly welcoming or quiet.
Thus, judgment is a choice. When you feel or fear that someone is casting a negative opinion upon you or about you, override your thinking as quickly as you can with something like, “Insha Allah, not.” “God willing not.” Meaning, “Insha Allah, they are not suspecting anything negative of me.”
The goal to develop in your disposition toward the community is one of love and hope. If you want to find crooks in the community, we have them. If you want to find hypocrites in the community, we have them also. But we do have plenty of tender, humble, upright people. Focus on them, and have sympathy for the others. Have love for all.
But, the point about perspective and judgment goes further. You choose what you think of Allah. Some students tell me that they believe Allah hates them. Others tell me that they believe that Allah has abandoned them. There are three points to consider with such views. The first is that these are real feelings. Real sentiments, and should not be dismissed. Rather, they should be investigated to figure out where the feelings are coming from. Second, these feelings represent longing. If you believe that God hates you, then it follows that you are longing for Him not to, but you may not have the tools to move beyond the feeling that you are hated. Third, even then, these sentiments and beliefs are choices. You choose what you think of Allah, and, for your experience in life, that is what Allah becomes for you.
The default outlooks we are prescribed to have toward Allah come from His many names. The most commonly repeated attributes among those names are the attributes of Rahma (mercy that brings the mercy-recipient closer to the mercy-giver). Meaning, make it a conscious choice to see the default relationship that Allah has with you to be Rahma. Then, when looking at the environment around you, see all the things in your environment, as well as the entire collective ethos of the environment, as the product of Allah’s Rahma on you.
This means that the ethos of the world around you and I is one of Da’wa (Calling). The environment around you is calling you to experience and to witness Allah’s Rahma. Meaning, when you look at a cloud, or a tree, or a building, or another person, that entity is calling upon you to not only remember Allah’s Rahma, but to accept and experience it. Meet me in my office, and we can discuss exercises to help this develop this outlook.
Thus, one of the ongoing struggles of life is to accept and immerse ourselves in Allah’s Rahma. This also applies when we are experiencing struggle, which is also a Rahma, which we will speak about some other time. Until then, if you get the chance, take a visit to one of the conventions, and witness Allah’s Rahma through your community. Then, do the same with the Muslims on campus.
And Allah knows best.