remembering God in congregation (fi yawm al-jumua)

So in my view, the “masjid” I read about in the Quran is not a physical building built with someone’s money or endowment and then run by some leadership or caretakers and where people get on pulpits to talk at others and where people gather to enjoy community and where “knowledge” is imparted by “scholars/ulama” to people. No such thing is to be found in revelation. masjid, as the name suggests, is a place of prostration. It is sacred because it brings me to the presence of an eternal and eternally merciful source of life and beauty. The Quran asks me to turn my “face” towards this sacred place wherever I may be physically. Part of verse 2:144 reads “فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنتُمْ فَوَلُّواْ وُجُوِهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ “

“….turn, then, your face towards the sacred place of prostration; and wherever you all may be, turn your faces towards it…” 

Any physical space could be masjid and what would make it masjid is prostration, which is not of course of the body only but primarily of the heart. Wherever the heart prostrates, it is masjid. And the body’s prostration is the heart’s prostration if it is a prostration to the Lord of the heart not just the lord of the body. Security/iman is experienced in the heart and it is the heart that recognizes its Merciful Lord and the heart that prostrates. The body does what it does honestly and sincerely only when it does what the heart also does and it does insincerely and pretentiously (and with much burden and unease) when it does what the heart is not in fact doing (and when it doesn’t do what the heart is doing – that too is painful and suffocating when one cannot physically express what one wants to). Revelation is clear that it is the heart that makes something Lord, accepts something as Lord (rightly or wrongly), offers praise/gratitude or doesn’t etc. Prostration and all human agency (not animal agency) is a matter of the hear/mind. There is no reason I find in my life or in revelation that convinces me to suddenly interpret “masjid” as some physical building when I understand prostration, and revelation teaches prostration, as the glorifying and supplication of the heart/soul/mind (the mind is really heart and not some separate entity as far as I am concerned. I think/feel together not separately.)

But of course, if you follow Islam, embraced Islam, practice Islam, love Islam, then the “masjid” of Islam and Muslims is a special physical building. If you want to worship the god of Muslims and Islam, you should go to that building. and enjoy! it’s not for me. I find truth and meaning in prostrating to the Lord that revelation teaches me, to remember the Lord of the universe, not the God of Muslims, not the masjid and prostration that islamic jurisprudence teaches. I don’t know and cannot know if God and Islamic jurisprudence were alternatives for those who engaged in the latter. What I know is, if I were to bow to someone’s ideas instead of my maker’s guidance to me, I would have despaired of His guidance, ignored His guidance and given preference to other than Him as source of guidance and meaning for me. I can’t do that. I find it true and meaningful to prostrate to the God taught to me in the Quran as revelation and in the masjid taught to me in the Quran as revelation. I do not find it meaningful to prostrate in the the masjid of Islam/Muslims that are taught to me by the “Islamic tradition.”

The masjid taught to me in the Quran, and whose truth I can witness, has congregants to the number of beings in the world and, among human beings, it has as attendees all those who choose to prostrate to Him, turning away from all else as their Lord. Among the congregants are beings who may or may not have heard anything from the revelation in Arabic but who have been guided by their maker to see that none other than He, the maker and sustainer, is the worthy of their trust and adoration.The blessed ones are strewn across the earth and in the heavens (it is unreasonable to think that heavens will not have inhabitants proper to it when every corner of the earth I live on has creatures on). For me, to prostrate to the One who is Lord of the universe includes turning away from prostrating to the god of the Islamic tradition in buildings built and run by people claiming to be “Muslims” as their identity. I turn away from identity and religion and turn to the One who is truth – the true owner and source of all meaning. And of course you either turn to truth as well in this way and find what I am saying really helpful and good or you find what I say stupid, blasphemous, presumptuous, childish, arrogant, misguided and so on and turn away from it. I can’t make that choice for you and its not on me. Thankfully, each one of us is responsible for only ourselves when it comes to meaning and truth. So I say to you “peace..please continue on your way but do not harm yourself by embracing what is false and embrace only truth”. I am going to stick to whatever I can understand from revelation from my maker. I have no interest in Islam as a religion or Muslims as a community. To me, these are names and labels without meaning. And I hope you will be prepared, as I hope I will be prepared, to answer to my Lord when he asks me one day about the criteria and considerations and reasons I had for choosing one or another idea or action of mine. I hope I will be ready to answer where I learned “masjid” from – my maker’s message to me whose truth I tried to confirm as he asked me to or from people and history and tradition and those I elevated to “guided ones” and “scholars” in addition to my Lord. I plan to not be among those who bow to tradition and who call to religion. I choose to be one who calls to surrendering all beauty, all life and all things to their creator and source. I call myself and others to Him. It is beautiful to be separated from untruth (my own and those of others) and to be with truth. I get this truth from revelation, from a message from my creator. If you find a way to truth in Islam or in Sufism or in atheism or in Science or in Engineering or in Hinduism or Christianity or whatever – my suggestion is that you should follow it. I am all for truth and not one to recommend falsehood. I did not find truth in any of those things by myself. I needed revelation from my maker to tell me what the truth is, to reveal the truth to me. For now, for lack of anything better, I am engaging the Quran as revelation and it has helped…so far…

To me, there is a clear difference between what Islam offers and demands and what revelation offers and demands. I have to make the choice. For example, I realize that I can EITHER “remember the legacy of the great Muhammad Ali (the boxer) or “take brother Malcolm X (the black civil rights leader) as a great role model and inspiration’ or take the great Ottomans (name your favorite power) as ideal leaders or the great “Islamic civilization” (a meaningless made up term that is supposed to be the possessor of “greatness”) as something to be proud of or the great justice of Muslim caliphs or great knowledge of some person as something to praise OR I can choose to see the same things in His name: I can remember God’s Mercy, His justice, His greatness, His Wisdom in the things that display these qualities. My praise is then for Him ALONE. I have nothing against the creatures of the One (whether its Michael Jackson or Malcolm X) – I turn away from those who do not unify the source and hence allege there are names/things/people other than Him that are praiseworthy. I have rarely seen anyone witness and articulate that the justice they see in a person’s action is not that person’s (la-ilaha) and this is when/how they realize that their maker/Lord is Just! People generally do not ask me sing praises of the Just when they talk to me about just actions of a person. They want to talk about that person and how great that person is/was for doing all those just things or for fighting for justice and how, if that person is “one of them” is a great representative of “their” ideals and “their religion”. I reject all such nonsense as oppressive and meaningless. No creature has any share in what it finds itself endowed with. Nothing a creature could do would merit or warrant that it be given anything, including existence itself. Those who pretend to praise “God” without negating false sources/possessors of praiseworthy qualities do not know what they say or do. They just repeat what they heard. They do not understand. That, at least, is my view ands so I turn from them.

I am rightly warned by 12:106,

وَمَا يُؤْمِنُ أَكْثَرُهُمْ بِاللّهِ إِلاَّ وَهُم مُّشْرِكُونَ

And most of them do not believe in God without ascribing divine powers to other beings beside Him

You might be wondering: what happened to congregational prayers? Well its quite simple actually, if I know what blessing/salah/prayer is for: blessed is the One who is what I find/eft with me when I see that there is no deity but He.

When am I called to a congregational blessing of this sort? When I choose to see all beings, altogether glorifying NOT themselves, NOT the “weather”, NOT a place, NOT a country, NOT a land, NOT a culture, NOT the “I”, NOT “nature” (which is my default/unaware state often) but INSTEAD their creator and Sustainer: the sky, the tree, the earth, the bird, the stone, the air, my hands, my body, the butterflies, the flies, the love between two people, my love for beauty – how big do you want your congregation to be? costs no money to increase the size of the “masjid” to include the galaxies too because it is a matter of the heart/consciousness/awareness). When these beings call me NOT to themselves but to remember (become aware of) of my Lord – a Provider, a Beauteous Maker, a Wise One. When I see this One being blessed by all the beings – the living bird is blessing the Living One as the source of its life by saying it is not the source of its own life for example, I witness Him being blessed by beings (any time/day of the week really). If I realize this truth and agree with it, I too join them in blessing Him. I remind myself that my life, health, vision, sustenance – all that i value and that I had ceased to hear as blessing HIM – now that I am reminded that He is the One blessed in all things I feel “blessed” with, I bless Him. I remember Him, the Source. I am connected with this One again. So what changes? the Quran gives me a clue: all the things that I had been previously taking/seeing as just those things I now seek as “God’s favors and blessings” (fadl Allah), upon being called to blessing Him by beings around me that I can direct my gaze at and find myself surrounded by- the congregation.

I mentioned names of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X just as examples really. In the present moment, due to the prominence of racism and racial discrimination against blacks and people of color, such people are mentioned often and it is acceptable and encouraged to extol their glory. In any other context, time or place, other examples can be found to make the larger points.

So now, after reading what I understand from the verse, let me give you the verses:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا نُودِي لِلصَّلَاةِ مِن يَوْمِ الْجُمُعَةِ فَاسْعَوْا إِلَى ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَذَرُوا الْبَيْعَ ذَلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

O YOU who want security! When the call to blessing [God] is sounded on the day/moment of gathering/congregation, hasten to the remembrance of God [not “the ritual Friday Prayer” mind you], and leave all commerce/exchanges [that does not remind you of God]: this is for your own good, if you but knew it

فَإِذَا قُضِيَتِ الصَّلَاةُ فَانتَشِرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَابْتَغُوا مِن فَضْلِ اللَّهِ وَاذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا لَّعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

And when the blessing is complete [i.e. when you have adequately reminded yourself that God is the One being blessed by all beings), disperse on earth and seek to obtain of God’s bounty [what was previously just e.g. a salary or the beauty of a beautiful thing or the love of a person or what “nature” had given or that one was “lucky” to have) and remember God often so that you prosper [indicating that there is no prosperity in even the best thing if it does not remind me or take me to the eternal source, God].

I have no answer for why people did what they did in the past, why they do what they do today. And I am not responsible for their choices and actions: what they did or did not do is right or wrong for them and for God to decide. I am responsible for myself and I choose to learn from revelation and the truth it claims I can witness in myself and in the world (as I experience and see it, not as I read about it in history books), not history or tradition or culture or what is written by created beings in books they pass down. It is precisely the reverance/worship of tradition that oppresses me and it is precisely this oppression that la-ilaha of revelation (and creation) releases me from.

Now if someone asks me to come to some physical place on some time/day of the week as a human being (not as a member of some tribe or community) and join them in reminding ourselves (in the language and manner that i am comfortable with) that God is praised and blessed by all creatures and so that we can then leave the gathering and seek not created beings in and for themselves but as blessings and grace of the One who makes them and who owns all their beautiful qualities, why would I have a problem with it? I would love it. I join such gatherings with some birds and trees and plants in my backyard several days a well. But I have never (yet) gone to some special building/place/mosque/temple where, allegedly, people are gathered for “salat al-jumua” and where what I have just described happens. Its about khutbah/sermons and stories and politics and religion and religious community and donations and men’s section and women’s section and shariah and obeying God and “We Muslims” and “those non-Muslims” and “our prophet” and this sahaba/companion story and that wise saying and “ritual” prayer and adhan/call to prayer and the “imams” and the people there to “do the prayers” and parking spots and the evil west/modernity and islamophobia etc etc etc.

Now If the truth (in this case about congregational praise of God) I get from revelation undermines something they call the “islamic tradition” or “Islam” or “Shariah” or Sunnah or that it is “Bida’/innovation” etc. why would care at all about such things over what I witness is truth from my Lord? Why would anyone do that? I’ll wait for the time when God asks us all what we chose and why. To me, many of the aggressive defenders of religious traditions and rituals and religious laws are enemies of truth. But they should follow whatever they see as truth. Judgment is not with me or with them. It is with the maker, thankfully! May the maker forgive all that we may do wrong knowing or unknowing. and may we understand what He teaches us about what is wrong and what is right and don’t put our trust in history or culture or, basically, what people say/do.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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