Hamza Yusuf, Jonathan Brown, Yahya Rhodus | Value of Liberal Arts Education | ADAMS Center

As the Friday evening rush hour set in around the DC beltway, I and hundreds of other Muslims battled through traffic, which more than doubled my travel time to get to the ADAMS Center mosque in Virginia. I arrived before the event and helped a parent carry in some boxes of Girl Scout cookies before making my way toward the gymnasium/multipurpose event room.

Before I even took off my shoes, I met an old acquaintance who said that the room was full and that we might as well make our way upstairs to the overflow space in the musalla. For a moment I considered trying to squeeze my way in but instead reluctantly decided to go upstairs knowing that the experience would be inferior. And it was, although, I give the organizers props for trying.

A television monitor, a bit on the small side, had been setup with close circuit feed to the program downstairs in the gym. The camera appeared as if it were placed on the furthest possible wall at the highest possible angle so we couldn’t really make out any of the main speakers. Some extra speakers had been brought in to amplify the sound so at least we were able to hear if not see.

Dr. Jonathan Brown, a hadith scholar at Georgetown University, opened by highlighting some of the pitfalls he sees in many western universities, which he described as having “sterile” and “amoral” environments. In such settings, moral thinking based in religion is often seen as an impediment to progress and enlightenment. According to Brown, most academics are afraid to weigh in on the political and moral issues of the day fearing a backlash or being accused of trying to “force” their personal convictions on others.

For a Muslim student raised in environment of black-and-white morality and where a spirit of inquisitiveness is not encouraged, a college environment, which does not nurture their faith can lead them to question everything they believe or had been taught to believe. According to Dr. Brown, this is one reason many colleges began as religious institutions that had a strong moral framework.

Dr. Brown hopes that the Muslim community can pool its resources to create more institutions like Zaytuna College that can build up and pass on wisdom for future generations of American Muslims. Through these institutions, the Muslim community can show the rest of society the values contained within the Islamic tradition.

Yahya Rhodus began his talk by translating some lines of poetry: “Make knowledge an excuse and don’t make other things an excuse for knowledge. And know for certain that knowledge and worship are the means of felicity and salvation. And that is what will remain for you in the next world so purify and cling to that.”

Today, many young Muslims feel at a loss spiritually and are not sure how to respond effectively to the changing circumstances we find ourselves in. Rhodus emphasized that having a holistic knowledge of the religion is key to navigating our situation as American Muslims. Knowledge can help the believer understand the context of generalized Prophetic principles, which remain constant, in light of the underlying changing circumstances of today.

Hamza Yusuf praised the ADAMS Center as a model American Muslim community but cautioned the audience not to become complacent by mentioning a narration from Abdullah Ibn Umar: When a believer is praised, he works harder, because he knows it [the praise] is always more than he deserves but when a hypocrite is praised he become lazy because he is pleased that people think good things about him.

Yusuf then reminded the audience that the religion of Islam is based on knowledge. The revelation of Quran began with the word Iqra, which means to read or recite and that this knowledge is a gift given from Allah. Knowledge can raise a people and communities in ranks but only if we remain humble.

In some narrations of the famous hadith “Seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim,” Yusuf explained that some scholars added the words “wal muslima” so that everyone would know that learning is obligatory for both men and women.

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NPR | Zaytuna College | Forging a Sustainable Faith in America

Courtesy of Zaytuna College

A clip from a report by NPR’s Barbara Bradley Haggerty about Zaytuna College and its uniquely American flavor in terms of ideas, outlook, and seating arrangements. I agree with Hamza Yusuf that I’ve also seen a return to moderation from many converts & newly practicing Muslims into a more sustainable faith outlook over the years.

Car Trouble Amidst The Poor Man’s Book of Assistance

Years ago, soon after my conversion to Islam, I attended my first and perhaps only MSA East Zone Conference in Rochester, NY. I had not yet integrated into the Muslim community and being amongst so many other Muslims was a revelation, comforting, and fun. While shopping in the bazaar, I purchased some lectures including Hamza Yusuf’s 16 CD translation and commentary of the ninth century Moroccan scholar Sidi Ahmed Zarruq’s penetrating work The Poor Man’s Book of Assistance.

My much-loved and worn copy

I’ve listened to the complete set at least 3-4 times, maybe more, and the CD case is beginning to show the wear and tear. The top half of the CD case has completely separated from the rest of the case. A few weeks ago, I started re-listening to the CD set while commuting back and forth to work and school. Sidi Ahmed Zarruq’s keen insight into the reality of the human condition allowed him to tailor his book into practical advice and steps for anyone seeking nearness to God and to improve one’s own spiritual condition. I’ve resolved to listen to the set again, while not driving, so that I can take notes on it.

Last year I purchased a used car, and on one of my first trips after the sale, I went to a fundraising dinner for a local Muslim newspaper. That night, while driving home on the highway, my car began to lose power. I was just barely able to cruise towards and reach my exit. And as I reached the end of the exit ramp, my car died at a red light. Thankfully, a lot of other Muslims live in the area and were also on their way home from the dinner so there was no shortage of offers of help and assistance. It was a little embarrassing but the warm expressions of support were deeply appreciated. We tried to jumpstart my car but it wouldn’t start. Turned out to be a problem with the alternator.

My car being towed after the Muslim Link dinner.

A couple of police cars showed up because my car and the cars of the Muslims who stopped to help me were blocking the left turn lane of the exit ramp. The police wanted us to move the cars but of course my car wouldn’t budge. And just then, a tow truck driver on his way to a different job pulled up in the lane beside me and asked if I needed a tow. I said, “Yes,” and within a few minutes, he hooked up my car and towed it to a gas station near my home. Everything worked out perfectly, I was humbled and thankful for what I saw as providential care and for the social support of my local Muslim community. Throughout, the situation I felt a sense of calm and inner peace, which I attribute to being focused on the larger picture of this life.

Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion. [Al-Hadid 57.20]

When we get angry or argumentative or bogged down in the stressors of life, we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Life’s too precious and too short to waste on matters that bring no benefit. The only real and lasting joys are in knowing God and in the higher purpose of life to worship him through our actions. Everything else is so fleeting and won’t benefit us in the hereafter. And besides, if you believe in the divine decree, then you know that’s what God has written for you.

Coming up on my car parked on the shoulder

Recently, my car has needed quite a bit of work. I had to fix the heater, the left turn signal and tag lights had an electrical wiring issue, changed the brake pads and rotor, and got an oil change. The tread on my left front tire is worryingly worn and needs to be replaced, and I’ve been working with the mechanic who sold me the car to repair my air conditioner.

Tonight, on my way to work, I experienced a bit of déjà vu, as my car once again began to lose power on the highway and eventually ground to a halt. Mercifully, this time, on the shoulder of the highway. Not sure why, will have the car towed in the morning, insha’Allah. But as I waited for a friend to arrive to pick me up, I finished listening to the last of the sixteen CDs in The Poor Man’s Book of Assistance set. Once again, I felt an inner sense of calm and peace and was thankful reflecting on the many blessings in my life.

Among the greatest gifts I’ve received in my life is the gift of Islam and with that an understanding of who Allah is and who the Messenger of Allah is and of the book and guidance found within this religion. Without that, I’d be lost and something small like my car stopping on the road would throw me for a loop. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes, and this life is a journey through constant taubah (repentance) and istiqama (firm uprightness).