Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The IRC Conference - speech

I am here to talk to you about the Battle of Badr, the return of our Imam ((as) and the role of converts in these events. I want converts to realize their potential and not undermine it.

By the way, I tend to say converts meaning those who chose Islam. But some people prefer the word reverts meaning those who return back to the true religion from whatever else they may have learned or been raised in. Please feel free to insert the word of your choice if I use the wrong one.

As a convert, I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin now. I’ve been a Muslim essentially my whole adult life. But until I went for hajj, I always felt like a child in Islam.

I thought I would never be equal in knowledge or faith to the born Muslims. Because of that thinking, I also felt I had little to contribute to the world as a convert to Islam. My conversion was mainly about me and my personal journey toward Gd.

However, after the hajj, I experienced a personal transformation. Like a coming of age. In my mind, I graduated from a convert to a Muslim.

And that is a big change.

My convert mentality was such that I saw myself as being a recipient. I received Gd’s guidance. I received Gd’s blessings. I received a Muslim friend’s help, advice and teaching. I received books to read.

That’s not to say I never gave, but my mentality was needy, unequal, less than.

But then my Muslim mentality acknowledged that I would always be growing. Always be journeying to Gd. Always not knowing everything I think I ought to.

But that is what a Muslim is supposed to do – continually try to go forward on the path. Where I am in relation to someone else is beside the point.

What matters is that we are all making the journey together. We are Muslims together.

I would like to tell a short story about a man named Wahab bin Amr, who was a companion of the 7th imam (as), and who was commonly called Bahlool. When the imam (as) was imprisoned, Behlool was one of those who sought advice from him about what to do in his absence.

What he understood that he should do was to pretend insanity to keep himself safe from the corrupt caliph Harun Rashid. Today we have many stories related about him that are often humorous but always containing wisdom.

In this story, a scholar named Junaid, knowing the real wisdom of Bahlool, asked him for advice.

Bahlool replied, “ You do not need any advice, you are a well-known scholar.” But Junaid insisted. So Bahlool gave in and said he would ask him some questions and if Junaid could answer them correctly, he would be advised.

So Bahlool asked his questions, and one of them was, “Do you know the manner of talking?”

Junaid replied immediately, “ I know how to talk. I talk with a low voice, politely and to the point, so that the listeners are not offended.”

Well, Bahlool stood up and started walking away, saying, “I thought you were quite learned. Yet you do not know the most basic things of Islam.”

Stunned, Junaid implored him, saying, “Please, guide me for the sake Alla_.”

“Well,” Bahlool said. “What you said was correct but a secondary virtue. If you do not know the principal of it, then it is useless. It is no use talking softly, politely and to the point, if it is a lie. When talking, one must ensure that one speaks the truth.”

Bahlool’s story illustrated a second thing that can become a stumbling for us apart from our mentality. We chose Islam for reasons. The primary reasons. But along our journeys as converts, like anyone, we may get bogged down in secondary things.

Not that they don’t matter, but the things that made us fall in love with Islam in the first place matter most.

We need to keep our inquiring spirits, our love of truth and our focus on the big picture of what it is all about and what really matters.

I suspect that many of us feel frustrated, distracted, marginalized and powerless to fix the problems we see. Everywhere we turn we are confronted with things that do not fit with the beautiful truth that made us love our Creatr,
to seek Hm and turn to Hm.

But, Alice Wine had it right when she wrote, “Keep your eyes on the prize.” She was speaking to people fighting for freedom and justice as part of the American Civil Rights Movement.

But what she meant was to keep focused. Without focus, there would be no progress.

The prize is not necessarily a reward, but it is the truth that we know to be, the truth that is the principal reason we are attracted to Islam, not a secondary virtue, the truth that made us be seeking and inquiring, yearning and desiring for it.

Nothing can frustrate the truth, distract the truth, marginalize the truth, or take power from the truth. It is only that we frustrate ourselves, distract ourselves, marginalize ourselves and take power from ourselves by losing focus from Our Creatr.

The truth is powerful.
And when we align ourselves with truth, we are aligned with that power.

Since I mentioned one civil rights leader, let me mention one of the most important – Martin Luther King Jr.
King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

We will not make progress on the right path if we focus on those things that frustrate and distract us – our eyes must focus on light and love.

There is a hadith qudsi in which Gd says, “I am as you think I am.”

It is not that Gd changes according to our thoughts or opinions! But our ability to perceive truth is affected by our openness to it and our seeking of it.

When we turn to All_, he turns to us. When we acknowledge the love of Gd to whatever extent we are able to understand it, then we can consciously experience it. If we deny Gd’s love, then we don’t feel it.

You are empowered by your belief in the truth. The more your faith, the more your power. This is why, I believe, the Prophet (saw) and Imam Ali (as) were able to do the things they did – because they had the greatest faith in Gd.

Some people like to say that converts tend to have stronger belief than those born into the faith. I think that is probably too much of a generalization to be true.

Because I believe that every able person has a responsibility in adulthood to seek truth and not just follow a religion because it was what their fathers had followed like the people mentioned in the Qur’an who did so –

and that when a born Muslim studies and seeks, he or she becomes similar to a convert in that he or she consciously chooses the path.

As people who have desired the truth and sought it out, we are in a unique position. The change we brought about in ourselves has been significant.

If we maintain and improve our commitment to the right path, then we may find ourselves called on and capable of
doing more.

Thus, we have a role we have to play in this world beyond trying to secure our own futures. We are the servants of Gd. Not just the recipients of his unquantifiable mercy.

Now it is time to talk about the Battle of Badr. Because that battle shows converts at their best – focused on what matters most and believing that Gd can work amazing things through them.

When the Prophet (saw) first began his mission, he first delivered the message only to his immediate family, and then to his more distant kin. After more than a decade, the followers of Islam in Mecca had increased in number and Islam was perceived as a real threat. The Muslims were persecuted and assassination attempts were made on the Prophet (saw).

After 13 years, they decided to emigrate to Medina, where Islam was being favorably received and they would find welcome. They still faced conflict from those against Islam, but for a few years the migration slowed down the progression of violence.

Then one day, Abu Sufyan, seeing that his caravan to Syria might be stopped by the Muslims, changed his route and sent word back to Mecca. In response, an army of at least 950 strong was sent to meet the Muslims, who numbered no more than 313 men standing with the Prophet (saw).

The Muslims had not been planning for such a battle, but now they had to face it, outnumbered nearly 3 – to – 1.

One of the Muslims, Miqdad, had emigrated with the Prophet (saw) from Mecca and thus was called as one of the Muhajireen.

He said, “O Messenger of God, do what Gd has commanded you to do. We are with you, now and at all times; and we shall not tell you what the Israelites told Moses:’You and your Lord should go and fight against the enemy; as for us we shall stay here and sit here.’ No, we shall not imitate the Israelites. We shall follow you and obey your orders.”

From the Ansar, who welcomed the Muslims fleeing Mecca into Medina, Saad ibn Muadh added, “; We have borne witness that you are the Msngr of Gd.

We have given you our pledge to obey you. Wherever you go, we shall go with you. If there is a showdown with the polytheists, we shall be steadfast in our support to you. In war and in peace we shall be consistently faithful to you.”

None of the Muslims with Imam Ali and the Prophet were born Muslims. Every single one of them converted. They did not know everything. But they believed. They had a Muslim mentality that day, not a convert mentality. And they were focused on the primary things that mattered most.

Battle at that time customarily began with duels. In answering the call to duel, the Prophet (saw) first sent people from his own clan, the Hashimites – he sent Imam Ali (as), his uncle Hamzah, and Obeidah al-Harith. Obeidah died as a result of injuries in the duel.

Eventually, the duels transformed into open battle as the army of Abu Sufyan grew frustrated in losing the duels. They expected an easy victory due to their overwhelming numbers and element of some surprise, but the Muslims were ultimately victorious, driving back the army and losing only a small number of lives in the process.

It is said that apart from Imam Ali (as), the remainder of the Muslim army had killed 27 of the attackers.

The victory of the Muslims, although not a landslide, was huge psychologically for both the Muslims and the polytheists. It was a turning point that established the real possibility that Islam would survive and thrive and that Muslims could have great influence in the future local and world affairs.

So, The Quraish prepared another battle with an army three times as large, at Ohod, to avenge this loss and try to squash the spread of Islam once and for all.

They brought women to this battle to jeer and taunt the enemy and act as cheerleaders, and they brought a religious idol called Hubal to the battlefield to boost their own morale and make it clear that to them this was a war of religion to destroy the spread of Islam.

The Prophet’s uncle, Hamza, lost his life at Ohod at the hands of a slave of Abu Sufyan’s wife, Hinda. The slave was named Wahshi. This hurt the morale of the Muslims. While the battle at first seemed to be going the same way as the Battle of Badr, in favor of the Muslims, some of the Muslims lost focus and began to doubt.

Some of them were premature in assuming victory and began going after spoils of war and leaving their positions.

This created an opening for the Quraish to rally, confusing the Muslim army and causing some of them to start running away, right past the Prophet (saw). As the Muslims ran, the women of the enemy came to the battlefield and began to mutilate the bodies of the Muslim slain to take trophies of war.

It was an ugly outcome for the Muslims. One battle went well for them, but another did not. Why the difference?

The people who converted to Islam in the time of the Prophet (saw) had the advantage that many of them were able to see him and to know him and to benefit directly from his presence and the presence of Ahlulbayt (as).

But, the trials and oppression they faced were often more extreme than what we face today.

For most of us most of the time, our lives are not immediately threatened as a result of our choice of religion. Many of these men and women who converted to Islam back then really did sacrifice all for the sake of Islam.

At Badr, you can see the key to their success in the words of Saad ibn Muadh and Miqdad. When they spoke before the battle, they showed how strongly they believed. The strength of their belief overcame their fear. Following their belief was the most important thing to them, and they were focused on that.

And they believed that they, as they were, new to Islam, imperfect, could make a difference in hard situations. They could serve Gd and not just receive from Hm and Hs Msngr.

But unfortunately, at Ohod, some of the converts lost that vision– they took their eyes of the prize and became distracted by worldly things. They forgot that they were not fighting for themselves, but for truth. They forgot that no enemy of any size can overcome Gd and that even if they died they could be victorious.

When we came to Islam, you and I, we did not come for something worldly. We came for Gd., out of recognition of the truth. We overcame fear of what might happen to us as a result of our choice because we trusted Gd to help us.

But sometimes along the way, we forget to trust Gd, we forget hs limitless power, we forget the limitless nature of our potential in hs service. When we live as the servants of Gd, through us, he can bring about whatever he desires no matter how hard or improbable it may seem to us. Kun faya Kun. He just says Be and it is!

And although I have mentioned battle, let me be clear -

We cannot glorify war, for it is an illness, and among the worst things known to mankind. For a true follower of Gd, it is a last resort and even then must be done with greatest ethics.
The Prophet (saw) said “I was sent to mankind in order to perfect the virtues of ethics.”

While Junaid’s niceties are part of those ethics, Bahlool’s focus on the primary things tells us that first we have responsibitilies to observe the rights of others and not to oppress others for any reason.

Thus, battle for a Muslim comes only when called upon by Gd as the only means to protect the truth from being lost from knowledge and to stop oppression.

The 7th Imam (as) was asked what should a Muslim do if his homeland is invaded.

He said, “he should defend for the safety of Islam and muslims and his fighting should be to the least amount necessary to protect his life and that of other muslims and not for the government of the time .

We must remember the behavior of the Prophet (saw) and Ahlulbayt (as), how they exercised patience against oppression and were not aggressors and did not violate the rights of people. They never acted in anger or personal motive.

I have mentioned the example of the Battle of Badr to show that people, including converts, can overcome great odds through focus and strong belief in Gd – not only in their personal lives but also in great matters.

Even now, the voices of converts in the West are affecting government policy and economics all over the world.

We live in a time approaching the time of the greatest of imaginable affairs – when the Mahdi (as) , will rid the world of oppression and establish an era of life on earth according to Gd’s plan.

Imam Sadiq (as) said, ‘It is not allowed that a muslim should fight the unbelievers under the authority of a tyrannical ruler or their traditions.” But when the Imam of our Age (as) comes out of occultation, the era of tyrannical rule will be over, and tyranny will not be permitted to occur in the earth.

The Imam (as) will stop it – this is the promise of Gd according to many sources. But the Imam (as) will not stand alone – with him in the overthrow of tyranny will be people with clear focus on the primary things and strong belief who will answer the call.

We do not know when this will happen, but we must accept the possibility that it could happen when we will be responsible for responding to the call.

In the Qur’an there is an ayah that says in meaning, “Hasten then to do good works, surpassing each other. Wherever you are, Alh will bring you altogether; verily, Allh has power over all things.”

Imam Baqir, the 5th Imam (as), was asked to relate the meaning of this, and he said:

I swear to Allh that it is as if I can see the Qa’em (the 12th imam (as)) with his back resting on the black stone of the ka’abah, calling out his rights:

O people! Those who dispute with me about Allh, should know that I am the most knowledgable about Allh.

O people! Those who dispute with me about Adam should know that I am the most knowledgable about Adam.

O people! Those who dispute with me about Noah should know that I am the most knowledgeable about Noah.

O people! Those who dispute with me about Abraham should know that I am the most knowledgeable about Abraham.

O people! Those who dispute with me about Moses should know that I am the most knowledgeable about Moses.

O people! Those who dispute with me about Jesus should know that I am the most knowledgeable about Jesus.

O people! Those who dispute with me about the Messenger of Allh Muhammad should know that I am the most knowledgeable about the Msngr of Allah.

O people! Those who dispute with me about the Qur’an should know that I am the most knowledgable about the Qur’an.

Then he will move to the Maqam e Ibrahim where the footprint of Abraham is by the Ka’aba and he will pray two rakats and call upon Gd with his Hebrew name and ask Allh to grant him his rights.

Then, 5th Imam continued saying:
The first one to pay allegiance to the 12th imam will be the angel Jibrael and then 313 men.

Those 313 men are those of the ayah the man asked about, ‘wherever you are, Allh will bring you altogether’ – they will disappear form their beds to join him with no prior appointment. There will be 50 women with them.

Then a caller will call and announce his reappearance in a voice that will be heard by everyone on earth.

I think it is perhaps not a coincidence that the number of the men, 313, is the same as the number of the men with the Prophet (saw) at the Battle of Badr. We know that the 313 men, except Ali (as), were all converts to Islam.

So, What about the 313 with the Imam of our age (as)? Could they be converts too? Could we be them?

Imam Sadiq (as) was asked to relate their names and where they would be from. According to some hadith, he proceeded to name many of them and said the 313 come from all over the world .

From the middle east, from Asia, from Europe, and from the West. One he mentioned particularly caught my eye as maybe being a convert: a seeker of truth living in Western-ruled lands with a son named David - and there may well be more among the names he mentioned.

More people will be involved in the rising of the Imam (as) – these 313 men and 50 women are just part of the story.

According to Imam Musa (as), ‘when the 12th imam rises, Allh will gather the shia of ahlulbayt from every country.

Another ayah of the Qur’an says in meaning, “And of Musa’s people there is a group who guide people with the truth and thereby do justice.” About this ayah, Imam Sadiq (as) said that when the 12th imam rises, Gd will resurrect 27 men for him.

Some of them are those described by that ayah from the nation of Musa. Also raised, according to this hadith, will be the companions of the cave mentioned in Qur’an, Salman al –Farsi, Malik Al-Ashtar, and Miqdaad – the companion from the Battle of Badr who professed his readiness to fight for truth.

Imam Sadiq (as) said that some of the 313 will disappear at night from their beds and be in Makkah in the morning. Others will travel during the day on the clouds, and those will be the ones of stronger faith. Perhaps they could come by airplane?

After these 313 men and 50 women have joined our Imam, he will lead an army of ten thousand men and these 313 will be his leaders. And they will serve Gd and establish a rule truly free of oppression such that a helpless old woman will be able to travel alone across the whole earth and never fear or face harm from another person.

Can you imagine a world in which no one’s rights are violated and no one is oppressed?

The timeline of events leading up to his arrival shall be very swift – the world will change very quickly. It may be that we will be witnesses and participants. Because that is a possibility, we have a duty to prepare for that possibility. Anyone of us has the potential to be one of the initial 313 men and 50 women or of the 10,000 or more who will serve the cause of Gd.

But for that to be a possibility, we need to think like the converts at the Battle of Badr not at the Battle of Ohod –

If you remember these three things, then you have got my message:

Remember you are Muslim as any other Muslim. Remember the beauty of Islam that makes you love it. Remember to not allow yourself to be undermined by any worldly issues or conflicts that may be in the way of your primary focus.

So now, I leave you with these parting words:

Miqdaad chose Islam and said,
O Prophet, We are with you
now and at all times

Salman chose Islam and said,
By Gd, the Prophet’s (saw) face is that of a man who has never told a lie in his life.

Bilal chose Islam and said,
I am not going to abandon my faith. I am your slave, but in the matter of faith I am free.

Abu Dharr chose Islam and said,
Though I cannot see Allh with my eyes, yet I see him with my internal eye; He is seen in everything of the world.

We chose Islam and said,
Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik
Here I am at thy service O Lord
I have delivered myself into peace.

When all is said and done
a lot more is said than done

But those who remember their Lord before all else
Will do what they said.

We are empowered to be strong
and we never stand alone
And we make ready for the call of our Imam (as).

Oh Gd be before us where ever we turn ,
And be our goal wherever we go.

And be our aim in all our endeavors,
And our refuge and support in all difficult times.

And be our advocate in all our undertakings,
And be our strength in all our actions.

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