بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
إِنَّ الْحَمْدَ لِلَّهِ نَحْمَدُهُ وَنَسْتَعِينُهُ وَنَسْتَغْفِرُهُ وَنَعُوذُ بِاللهِ مِنْ شُرُور أَنْفُسِنَا وَمِنْسَيِّئَاتِ أَعْمَالِنَا مَنْ يَهْدِهِ اللهُ فَلَا مُضِلَّ لَهُ وَمَنْ يُضْلِلْ فَلَا هَادِيَ لَهُ وَأَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا عَبْدُهُ وَرَسُولُهُ
Verily, all praise is for Allah. We praise Him, we seek His assistance and we ask for His forgiveness. And we seek refuge in Him from the evils of our selves. Whoever Allah guides, none can misguide. Whoever He misguides, none can guide. And I bear witness that there is no deity other than Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger.
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
Iyyaka naAAbudu waiyyaka nastaAAeenu
It is You we worship and You we ask for help.
(Surah Al-Fatiha, Quran 1:5)
My dear brothers and sisters, at the end of summer, children are excited for school, ready to start their new grade, their new classes, their new teachers. A fresh start. Studies show that change becomes easier. Any change in your life becomes easier when it is paired with a fresh start. So when you start a new school or a new grade or a new job, then you have a fresh start, a new year. Allah SWT gives us opportunities throughout our lives for a fresh start. When someone comes to Islam, and accepts this deen as their way of life, they have a fresh start. SubhanAllah.
There was a brother we gave a shahada to last week. He wanted to accept Islam. He lived in South Carolina, and the closest masjid from him was 250 miles away. He knew someone in Seattle who was a Muslim and here as a part of the MAPS community, and he said, “I want you to guide me through this process.” So we did his shahada over Zoom SubhanAllah. I told him that the ones that are in this Zoom call with you were envious of you because you are getting this fresh start. Like Imam Joban says, “you’re like a newborn baby. That you are getting this fresh start and all of your previous mistakes and your sins are washed away and you get started.” And he said, “Well, I don’t like people being envious of me.” And I said, “No, this is the good kind of envy, where we wish that we had that same blessing that you had and not to take away from your blessing in any way.” So Allah SWT gives us fresh start.
Every year when we start Ramadan, we get a fresh start. An opportunity, that you may never get again. For you to repent to Allah, to turn back to Allah, and to start a new relationship with Allah. And when we leave Ramadan, we also have a fresh start when we have completed that process of increasing ourselves and our closeness to Allah. Now we get this new fresh start for the rest of the year. When we go for Hajj and we have a successful Hajj, it brings change to our lives. It’s an accepted Hajj and that’s a fresh start as the Prophet ﷺ taught us.
So when we wish to change, when we are going through challenges or difficulties in our lives, then we turn to Allah SWT. Every day in our prayer, what do we say?
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ – You alone we worship and from You alone we seek help.
That is what I would like to focus on today: help. Allah SWT is Al-Musta’in, The Helper. He is An-Nasir, the One who gets you out of the difficult situations. He is Al-Munajji, the One who saves you time after time. Allah SWT describes in the beautiful verse that as human beings, time after time we find ourselves in difficulty, and we find ourselves reaching out to Allah SWT.
When we didn’t study enough for that test, what do we say? “Ya Allah, help me. Ya Allah, give me miracle. Ya Allah, I need to pass this test. I don’t feel prepared. I don’t feel ready but I need to pass.” You get that job or that promotion? Then you say, “how am I going to do this? How am I going to have impostor syndrome? I don’t know if I’m ready.” You turn to Allah SWT.
You’re going through a difficulty or a challenge. You’ve lost a loved one. You turn to Allah SWT for help time after time, and Allah SWT says,
قُلِ اللَّهُ يُنَجِّيكُم مِّنْهَا وَمِن كُلِّ كَرْبٍ
Quli Allahu yunajjeekum minha wamin kulli karbin
Say, “It is Allah who saves you from it and from every distress;
(Surah Al-An ‘am, Quran 6:64)
Don’t forget in your desperation. You know how people make dua, right? What do we say? We say, “Ya Allah, if you only just do this one thing for me. Ya Allah, I never asked you for anything, just do this one thing for me.” Allah SWT reminds us that He will save you from that difficulty, just as He has saved you all your life, just as He has protected you all your life. The times that you were able to comprehend, and the times that, with our limited human capacity, we were unable to comprehend or understand how Allah SWT saved us.
Maybe it’s only years later that we realized that actually, I shouldn’t have married that person. I am so glad that Allah SWT made it so I didn’t marry that person. Because in that moment, I thought this is the only person I could ever marry and there’s no one else in this entire dunya that Allah could put me with. And it didn’t work out. And I was distraught and I was desperate. And I was feeling hopeless. Then years later, I realized that what Allah SWT had decreed for me, that was best for me.
That is why Allah SWT reminds us in the Quran, “that it might be that you love something, when in fact it is bad for you. And it might be that you hate something, when in fact it is good for you.” So we turn to Allah SWT in times of need. He is our helper. As we go through the challenges and the difficulties of life, we grow. We become stronger, we become wiser. And we realize that Allah SWT gives some certain blessings and He gives others different blessings. Why does he do this?
لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا
ayyukum ahsanu AAamalan
which of you is best in deed
(Surah Al-Mulk, Quran 67:2)
So that He can test us which of us is better in deed. Now, this word that Allah uses, أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا – better in deed, speaks to the competitive nature within you, “so I must be better than others.” But the beautiful thing about this competition is that there are no limits. It is not a zero sum game. It is not that because I do better or you do better than me that I get any less. Because Allah’s bounty is infinite. But rather this is just to show us that our test is relative to our humanity. We are not being tested against the angels. We are not being tested against the animals. We are being tested relative to human beings. Human beings make mistakes, human beings are weak, human beings are in need. Human beings have moments of good and they have moments of bad. They have moments of weakness and they have moments of strength. That is what we are to Allah.
Allah SWT does not give us a test that we cannot attempt. So when we need Him, we seek help from Him. The scholars say about the names of Allah, you should try to bring those attributes into your own life. So if we want Allah to help us and we want His mercy and we want His strength and His wisdom in our life, then we must show that same wisdom to others in our life. We must show that same mercy to others in our life. We must show that same help to others in our life. So today I would like to talk about in particular, this concept of helping others.
Allah SWT tells us through the Prophet (pbuh),
وَاللَّهُ فِي عَوْنِ الْعَبْدِ مَا كَانَ الْعَبْدُ فِي عَوْنِ أَخِيهِ
“Allah helps his righteous servant, as long as his servant helps their fellow brother or sister.”
(Sahih Muslim 2699)
As long as you help others, Allah SWT will help you. That is such a simple, yet powerful statement. As we go into this fresh start, as you start your new year in school, college, work, wherever it may be- whether it is today, or whether it is months from now, or whether you’ve already had it. How can you be of service to others? Abu Bakr (ra), the great companion of the Prophet (pbuh), said that, “the believer is like a light rain.” The light rain which brings mercy wherever it goes. Not too much, just light rain. So how can we be that light rain that is bringing service and helping others? So let’s talk a little bit more about that help.
What are the parts of any good deeds? There are two parts to any good deeds. The first part is your intention, and you are rewarded for good intention. But the second part is more vital, which is the action itself. The good intention is not enough. It must be then followed with a good action. You can very well have a good intention, but then do and commit a wrong action.
For example, your child skips school or class, and you write an excuse note. The intention is to help your child. But what have you done? You’ve done something which might continue to enable that behavior and say that that’s okay in this household. That that is okay to do. The middle school principal reached out to the parents and said, “this is the time when you let them fail.” What does that mean? This is the time when they can learn the consequences of their actions. That mom and dad don’t have to swoop in and rescue them right away. So they can then make better decisions at every single other stage or phase of their life. So supported failure, right? Not aggressive failure or punishment, but rather supported failure.
So, when it comes to a good deed, the intention matters, as well as the action itself. It’s important for both of those to be correct. If they are, then your reward is with Allah, and His reward is infinite. His reward has no end. It has many multiples. So each of us must ask, how can we serve others? How can we be like that light rain which Abu Bakr (ra) describes? How can we use the opportunities which Allah SWT has put before us to do good where we live in this society?
I was recently studying the culture of countries, a multigenerational study about six traits upon which every single country in the world is judged. They were studying the US in particular- why are the biggest companies, biggest startups, yada, yada, yada, the most innovation- why does it come from America? Among the six different traits, the one trait where America was number one was individualism.
What is individualism? The good of individualism is that each person vies for attention of society. Each person says, “I need to be the best.” Each person is competitive, and wants to innovate and come up with new ideas. Each person in the company wants to be recognized. That’s what leads to innovation and leads to this degree of financial prowess and ability.
What are the downsides of individualism? If you look at every single thing which you can criticize about America, almost everything goes back to individualism. The fact that health care is a free market where capitalism is involved, where you must pay to get your basic health care met. Unlike many other countries, it goes back to individualism that you must pay in order to attain your health. Similarly with gun control- many other countries prefer the security of the collective, as opposed to the individual security. But here, we emphasize the individual security.
Anyway, there’s many different aspects of it. But how it seeps into us as Muslims, it’s important for us to recognize that we are American Muslim, and that individualism is there. So we must fight that individualism when it goes in the wrong direction, where everything becomes transactional, where everything becomes, “you do this, and I will do this.” Because that is the great invalidator of sadaqah.
Allah SWT tells us, that when you give charity, and you expect a return on that charity, and it makes your charity wealthy, it makes your charity invalid. So when you give and when you help, you should be without expectation. There’s a beautiful verse in Surah Al-Insan about righteous people. The people of paradise give to others, and they give even if they themselves are in need. This is a high level. This is not a level which everyone achieves, yet it is something which we can strive to obtain. They say,
إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا
Innama nutAAimukum liwajhi Allahi la nureedu minkum jazaan wala shukooran
[Saying], “We feed you only for the countenance of Allah. We wish not from you reward or gratitude.
(Surah Al-Insan, Quran 76:9)
when we feed you and we help you, we nourish you, we do it only for the sake of Allah, لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا – This is the epitome of character- that we don’t require from you any thanks or gratitude, nor any compensation, nor any return. When someone gives you a gift, you feel obligated, “I must also give a gift. How did I not think of this? This person is giving me a gift, let me repay them. Let me give something back. I must think of that.” Quid pro quo. You scratch my back, I scratch your back.
But true charity and true generosity means that there is no expectation of repayment in any way. Not even a thank you. Sometimes you do something for someone, and they don’t say thank you to you. You think, “was this person not taught by their parents, that they can’t even say ‘thank you‘? I just did this thing for them. I’m not asking for anything but a thank you. I just want to be appreciated.” But actually the epitome of that character is that not even a thank you is required. SubhanAllah. That is the true kind of generosity, the sincere generosity, which is free of arrogance and ego. And if we are able to achieve that, that aligns with everything which the Quran says about righteousness,
لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ
Laysa albirra an tuwalloo wujoohakum qibala almashriqi waalmaghribi walakinna albirra man amana biAllahi
Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah,
(Surah Baqarah, Quran 2:177 )
that righteousness is not only about where you turn your faces in worship, وَلَٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ – but بِرَّ and true righteousness is that you have that God consciousness in everything that you do.
Another place Allah describes righteousness is that you give from the things that you love. Not from the things that you don’t like, but from the things that you love. So it’s important, my brothers and sisters, that when we help others, that we think truly and deeply about the effects and the consequences of that help. So that help is the right kind of help at the right kind of time.
The other thing which is very important, is the balance when it comes to giving. Allah SWT says,
وَلَا تَجْعَلْ يَدَكَ مَغْلُولَةً إِلَىٰ عُنُقِكَ وَلَا تَبْسُطْهَا كُلَّ الْبَسْطِ
Wala tajAAal yadaka maghloolatan ila AAunuqika wala tabsutha kulla albasti
And do not make your hand [as] chained to your neck or extend it completely
(Surah Al-Isra, Quran 17:29)
Don’t be tight fisted with your giving. Whether it’s your wealth, your time, or your energy, do not be tight fisted. Yet also don’t be so open handed, that you get taken advantage of. That’s something that’s very important for us to understand.
I would say that the society of the Prophet (pbuh) leaned towards generosity. It leaned towards extreme forms of generosity. I would say that our society as a whole leans towards, “let me take advantage of every single minute to make the most money that I can, the most productivity that I can, for myself and my future.” So when we feel that sense of stinginess, that sense of greed that overwhelms from time to time, we must counteract that and look at the opportunities which Allah has put in front of you. You see the person in need, Allah has put that in front of you. How are you going to act? You see the harm that has been placed on the road. As the Prophet (pbuh) said, the lowest form of imaan is that you remove a harmful thing from the road. Are you going to stop and remove that harmful thing?
Are you going to stop to take that moment of time? You might get to where you need to go one minute later or two minutes later- are you going to stop to remove that harm from the road? Are you going to be that light rain? At the same time on the other end, don’t be like the candle which is light to everyone else, but yet itself is melting. You say yes to so many things. Or you end up saying no to so many other things- yourself, your Rabb, your family. That balance is important and Islam helps us balance ourselves so that we don’t fall into any extremes.
May Allah SWT help us to help others. May Allah SWT help us to be amongst those who help others and achieve the forgiveness of Allah SWT. May we be merciful towards others, so that we may receive the Mercy of Allah SWT. May Allah SWT make us like that light rain that wherever it goes, it brings help and support to those who need it. May Allah SWT help us to follow the way of the Prophet (pbuh) who helped everyone around him and was that source of help and support for everyone around him. May Allah SWT help us to follow the ways of all of the Messengers (pbut). May Allah SWT help us to be those who are helpful not only to ourselves, but to our families, to our community, and society at large. Ameen.
عِبَادَ اللّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
Servants of Allah. Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.
اُذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ الْعَظِيمَ يَذْكُرْكُمْ واشْكُرُوهُ يَزِدْكُمْ واسْتَغْفِرُوهُ يَغْفِرْ لكُمْ واتّقُوهُ يَجْعَلْ لَكُمْ مِنْ أَمْرِكُمْ مَخْرَجًا
Remember Allah, the Great – He will remember you. Thank Him for His favors – He will increase you therein. And seek forgiveness from Him – He will forgive you. And be conscious of Him – He will provide you a way out of difficult matters.
And, establish the prayer.