All praise is for Allah, the Lord of the worlds and peace and blessings be upon all His Prophets and Messengers, their families and followers.
Dear Muslims, I welcome you to the 37th Annual Convention of the Islamic Society of North America. I pray to Allah to bless this gathering and to help us take full benefit of this time. May Allah increase our faith and commitment to His religion and may He strengthen our brotherhood, sisterhood and unity.
Dear Muslims, the theme of this year's convention is "Islam: Faith and Civilization." ISNA's conventions always emphasize some positive, educational and action oriented theme. We are at a critical time in our history where faith and civilization both are facing challenges. Today the civilization is without faith and people are losing faith in civilization. We have selected this theme to emphasize:
1. Islam's role as faith and civilization
2. Our commitment to faith and civilization
1. What is Faith?
Faith according to Islam is not just some rules, regulations, laws, rituals and traditions. True faith is belief and action. Islam stands for pure and sincere faith in Allah, the Lord and Master of the Universe, and righteous
actions that build the healthy and wholesome culture and civilization.
Someone came to the Prophet -peace be upon him- and asked him about faith. The Prophet recited:
"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity, to fulfil the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing."(al-Baqarah
Every year we choose one Ayah or Hadith to convey the message of the Convention. This is the Ayah of our Convention this year. We want all of us to reflect on this Ayah in these few days. We want the message of this Ayah to penetrate in our souls and our minds. We want to understand how we can translate it into our actions.
This Ayah 177 of Surah al-Baqarah is called Ayat al-Birr. The word "al-Birr" is very important. The word "al-Birr" in its various forms occurs in the Qur'an 20 times. It means "obedience to Allah, charity, doing good deeds, respect and kindness to parents, care of other relatives and fulfilling the vows and commitments."
"Al-Barr" is one of the names of Allah.
It is also the quality of Allah's angels. They are called Kiraman Bararah.
The Believers are also called "Abrar" and Allah has promised many rewards for the "Abrar"..
(See al-Baqarah 2:177; 189; Al 'Imran 3:92; al-Ma'idah 5:2; al-Mujadilah
58:9; al-Mumtahinah 60:8-9; al-Baqarah 2:224; al-Tur 52:28; 'Abasa 80:8-16;
Al 'Imran 3:193-198; al-Insan 76:5-12; al-Infitar 82:13-16; al-Mutaffifin
This ayah was revealed to the Prophet -peace be upon him- in Madinah when some hypocrites and non-believers wanted to engage Muslims in the dispute over the issue of the Qiblah. They told them how come you are facing Makkah now while you were facing Jerusalem before? Why did you change the direction of your prayers? Does this mean that your prayers were wrong before and all these years you prayed in vain? Allah mentioned in the Qur'an what they were saying. He said:
"The Fools among the people will say: "What has turned them from the Qibla to which they were used?" Say: To Allah belong East and West: He guides whom He will to a Way that is straight." (al-Baqarah 2:142)
Then the Ayat al-Birr came. Allah told Muslims not to get entangled in minor issues. You should focus your attention on the main things of religion. The real religion is not limited to some forms and rituals. The true faith and righteousness consist of some important qualities and actions. These are the qualities that we must have:
1. Iman: Strong faith in Allah, His Prophets and His guidance.
2. Charity: Helping the kin, orphans, poor people, travelers, needy, people who are deprived of freedom in order to enable them gain freedom.
3. Devotion and worship: Performing regular prayer and giving regularly for good causes.
4. Fulfilling the promises, contracts and commitments, being fair and good to all people with strong commitment to justice.
5. Patience and perseverance: inner strength, steadfastness, and discipline.
Islam wants to build the individuals and the civilization on these principles. These principles must integrate in our personality and we must build the social order, the civil society on these principles.
2. What is Civilization?
What is civilization? Is it high rise buildings? Is it big highways? Is it great factories and shopping malls? Is it big sports stadium, entertainment centers and music halls? Is it big business, banks, stock markets? Is it big armies, tanks, machine guns, atomic bombs? Is it TV, radio, faxes, Internet? Are these things civilization?
Civilization is not just material progress. Civilization is that human beings act like humans. The true civilization is love, kindness, charity, politeness, good behavior, generosity, peace, justice and fairness.
True civilization requires faith. Without faith the civilization becomes shallow, lop sided, self-destructive and harmful. But faith also must be true, authentic and based on divinely revealed principles. Civilizations are made by human beings. There are all kinds of civilizations, but the civilization that is based on true and authentic faith brings peace, happiness and harmony in the world.
Islam is a faith that inspires civilization. When Islam emerged on the stage of human history, the world was in deep darkness. Religions had lost their authentic message. Morality was at its lowest level. The whole world was in the grips of social, economic and political disorder. There was no one who could save humanity. But Allah sent Prophet Muhammad, His last and final Prophet to humanity. Allah gave him His message. He inspired and motivated people and gave them right direction and set a good example. In a short period of time his followers became the leaders of humanity and for more than one thousand years they were leading the world in culture and civilization. From every direction people came to learn from them.
The faith was simple and reasonable. It was based on the principle of Tawhid, Risalah and Akhirah. There is only one God who created everything visible and invisible. Allah is the Lord and only He should be worshipped. People should not bow to idols, humans or animals. Allah guided human beings through His Prophets and Messengers who came to every part of the world. Human beings are responsible and there will be a day of reckoning in the Hereafter. Islamic faith emphasizes balance between reason and revelation, between spiritual and material, between the rights of individuals and the rights of the society, between this world, its needs and the Hereafter. The spirit of Islamic civilization is balance, wholesomeness, ethics, morality, equality, tolerance, deep respect of others and sincere devotion to Allah.
3. Crisis of Civilization:
Today the whole world is in crisis. There is a moral crisis every where. The hypocrisy is called diplomacy today. Lying and cheating are called business and politics. Adultery and fornication are called private relations and personal orientation. Pornography is called art and free expression. There is violence, injustice, and double standard in politics. 'Human rights' is a slogan and it is applied selectively. Globalization has become global exploitation. Families are falling apart. Drugs and narcotics are on increase. Crimes are abundant. Human beings are afraid of other human beings. There is a pollution of morals and pollution of environment. We have global dangers.
In the past if there was a problem in one part of the world the other parts would not even know and would not be affected, but now we are totally inter-dependant. We are linked with each other. We are now facing global challenges and global dangers.
Material prosperity is good; but more important are the spiritual truth and moral goodness. The Qur'an has severely criticized the civilizations that became very prosperous, but they ignored true faith and morality. Allah says:
Do they not travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those before them? They were superior to them in strength: they tilled the earth and populated it in greater numbers than these have done: there came to them their Messengers with Clear (Signs). (Which they rejected, to their own destruction): it was not Allah who wronged them, but they wronged their own souls. 10- In the long run evil in the extreme was the End of those who did evil; for that they rejected the Signs of Allah, and held them up to ridicule. (al-Rum 30:9-10)
"Has not the story reached them of those before them? The people of Noah, 'Ad, Thamud; the people of Abraham, the men of Madyan, and the Cities overthrown. To them came their Messengers with Clear Signs. It is not Allah Who wronged them, but they wronged their own souls." (al-Tawbah 9:70)
Ad, Thamud, Madyan, People of Lut, People of Saba', People of Pharaoh and others, they were great builders and lived very prosperous and sophisticated life, but they lost the balance and equilibrium and so they suffered the consequence.
4. Muslims must lead the world towards a new civilization:
Muslims must lead the civilization. We must take our role seriously. We have the authentic message of Allah. We have the most beautiful example of Prophet Muhammad. But we ourselves first must live by our principles.
Brothers and sisters, we do not lack numbers. We do not lack resources. We are more than one and half billion Muslims in the world. But we must come back to Allah, to our heritage, to our values and principles.
1. Our faith should be strong and sincere. Our practices should become more meaningful, not just ritualistic.
2. We must emphasize learning and education. Our educational institutions should be reformed and should go through drastic changes to meet the challenges of this time.
3. We must get out of nationalism and foster more unity and brotherhood, sisterhood among ourselves.
4. We must have more representative governments and responsible politicians.
5. We must practice justice and fair dealings. We must be able to trust our own selves and our leaders before we ask others to trust us.
6. Our morals and manners should reflect the true teachings of Islam.
7. The Qur'an and Sunnah should be our main sources of guidance, not un-Islamic values and habits.
8. The objective and purpose of our life should be to establish Allah's rule in our own lives and in the world. We must inculcate in us the true spirit of Iman, Taqwa and Islah.
Brothers and sisters, Muslims of Kashmir are crying for help. The world is ignoring their cries. Muslims of Chechnya are being annihilated and no one care for them. Muslims in Iraq are dying in thousands every month, they are suffering under the most inhumane economic sanctions, but there is no hope for them. The rights of Muslims in Jerusalem, the rights of Palestinians to their homeland are slighted and played around, and our governments are afraid to speak. We have threats and real dangers to our own civil rights here in this land. We have much propaganda and stereotypes against Islam and Muslims.
Brothers and sisters, unless we take our role seriously in the world, we will continue to suffer and the world will continue to suffer. The world needs us. When Muslims succeed the world succeed and when Muslim lose the world loses. We are the people who must support justice and mercy in the world. We must stand for our rights and for the rights of those who are victimized and oppressed.
5. The Role of Muslims:
The Qur'an tells us:
"Why were there not, among the generations before you, persons possessed of balanced good sense, prohibiting people from mischief in the earth, except a few among them whom We saved (from harm)? But the wrongdoers pursued the enjoyment of the good things of life which were given them, and persisted in sin. Nor would your Lord be the One to destroy communities for a single wrong-doing, if its members were likely to reform their ways." (Hud 11:116-117)
Brothers and sisters:
We have to play that role, the role of "Ulu Baqiyah" the people of good sense. These are the people who save themselves and save others. Let us take that leading role.
6. ISNA's Call:
ISNA is your organization. It is you. It does not belong to any government or to any political party here or abroad. We are open to all. We dialogue, reason, interact, and work with all people, but we follow the command of Allah:
"...Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and aggression: fear Allah: for Allah is strict in punishment." (al-Ma'idah 5:2)
ISNA belongs to you, and we all belong to Allah and to Him we shall return. ISNA's call to the Muslims of North America is to come together, hold fast the rope of Allah. Be strong, have self confidence, work hard, be good and do good to all people, remove the misunderstanding about Islam, and never do any thing that create misunderstanding in the minds of others.
Learn about Islamic culture and civilization. Take pride in your faith and values, live by them and spread the good news of Islam.
We hold these conventions to educate, inspire, unite and give an action plan to Muslims. I hope you will take full benefit of this time and will return to your respective communities with refined vision and renewed enthusiasm.
May Allah bless you.
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