In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Most Merciful
Friday Khutba summaries 28 June & 5 July (video here)
Special Character Building (Akhlaq) Techniques
Part 3: Why do we perform a sin whilst knowing it is wrong?: The deficiencies of the ‘Aql and how to overcome them
In the first sermon we took the principle of making one’s private practises excel their public behaviour and in the second, how looking at the faults in others should be a sufficient lesson to working toward ensuring those faults are not in us.
This sermon will help us to understand why our decision making often becomes blurred and though we know something may be wrong or forbidden, why we end up performing that act anyway. We will then mention some ways that is manifesting itself in our regular lives and then focus on the remedies to this challenge.
The Qur’an introduces that people knowingly distort or consciously do wrong. Examples include:
1) وَلاَ تَلْبِسُواْ الْحَقَّ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتَكْتُمُواْ الْحَقَّ وَأَنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
(2:42) And do not mix the truth with falsehood and suppress the truth while you know (are aware of what you are doing)
2) الَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَعْرِفُونَهُ كَمَا يَعْرِفُونَ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ وَإِنَّ فَرِيقًا مِّنْهُمْ لَيَكْتُمُونَ الْحَقَّ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
(2:146) Those who were give the Book, they recognise him (the Messenger of Allah) just as they know their own sons. But a group from them cover the truth which they themselves know
3) ثُمَّ يُحَرِّفُونَهُ مِن بَعْدِ مَا عَقَلُوهُ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
(2:75) Then they perverted it after having understood it and they know what they are doing
Why is this the case? What causes this conflict between knowledge and action? The narration about to be quoted is the central principle of this sermon: Imam Mohammed al-Baqir (a) is narrated to have said, “If any amount of arrogance enters the heart of a person it will bring about deficiency to the intellect with the same amount of what entered it, whether it be a little or a lot.” الباقر ع ما دخل قلبَ امرئٍ شيءٌ من الكبر الا نقص من عقله مِثلُ ما دخلهُ من ذلك قلَّ ذلك او كثُرَ
This means that if a particular sin carries a weight of distorting or weakening the ‘Aql by 20% it will reduce the power of the ‘Aql to 80%. Worse still if the power of the ‘Aql has been reduced more and more, further acting on these types of sin’s will result in the ‘Aql’s strength being ever reduced until eventually enveloping and puncturing it from all sides rendering it useless.
A famous story at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s) was that a Rabbi and his son were discussing the sign’s of the Prophet’s (s) foretelling in their scriptures. The father told the son to sit with the Prophet (s) and assess whether those signs truly were in the Prophet (s) or not. Having done so the son returns to his father and checks off each off the signs. The Rabbi responded, ‘I still will not accept him because he is a gentile’.
This tells us that so long as personal desires and biases’ are not in check, the volatility of the heart and process of the maturing of the mind will always be subject to these deficiencies; the ‘Aql, which is a pure light, gifted by Allah (swt), used to navigate the world, will be unable to guide the person properly.
How does this manifest itself in some of the regular challenges facing the Muslim community?
Imams of Mosques are often asked questions like, ‘Can my son/daughter go to Prom?’ despite being aware of the prohibited environment, actions there and putting people in potentially compromising positions. Despite knowing all this – and what the right answer is, what often happens is due to pressure or seeking a justification, the question is asked anyway. Similarly, this week during ‘Pride Month’, parents mention that schools have a ‘dress-down’ day and students are invited to pay £1 to celebrate the LGBTQ+ movement – they ask if their children could participate. How is it that whilst knowing the celebration of the act of homosexuality is a sin in Islam, parents still ask if their children can participate in this? It is because the ‘Aql, the tool for navigating right and wrong, is made deficient through sin blurring our moral compasses.
What then is the Qur’anic prescription for this? The answer lies in the deeper meanings of Tazkiyyah or purification of one’s actions. Let us look at the example of Prophet ‘Isa (a). When introducing himself to his mother’s accusers, he says (19:31) “And He has enjoined upon me prayer and zakaat as long as I live” وَأَوْصَانِي بِالصَّلَاةِ وَالزَّكَاةِ مَا دُمْتُ حَيًّا
Zakaat here, according to commentators, does not mean just religious charitable taxes. Zakaat means to purify; one form of this is to purify one’s wealth by paying a tax on it. In the spiritual sense, there is however, Zakaat or tax on everything we own and do. This is mentioned in the hadith literature where Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a) said, “The tax on knowledge is to spread it” زَكَاةُ الْعِلْمِ نَشْرُهُ The more knowledge we gain, the more upon us it is to share it. There is Zakaat on your capacity and physical strength; to help people who are less physically capable and so on.
There is also a Zakaat or tax on your A’maal or actions to ensure their freedom from corruption. These Zakaat purify the acts and return the ‘Aql to its full capacity. This is because it protects the ‘Aql from the sins that distort it or help return it to a purer state. Let us look at two types of Zakaat on your actions:
The First is Before any act, something akin to being taxed at source.
One of the great scholars was addressing his students about their actions on the pulpit. He said, ‘Before you advise people to do a good deed, make sure you are doing that deed yourself, especially that day. If you’re going to advise people to give charity, ensure you have given charity that day, even if it be the little amount. That way no hypocrisy can enter into your heart and reduce the action by that amount.’
The Second is After the act, something akin to a tax return.
It is often the case that a degree of pride or arrogance enters into an act; it is performed with some hope of recognition or reward or compliment from people or a particular person. This needs to be realised, caught and stopped. Even though it has been caught that amount of arrogance still remains either in the act or generally in the heart and needs purifying from; needs to addressed so that it no longer remains a problem that may grow.
The tax on this after the act is to re-perform the act (or similar act) without that degree of pride OR perform a similar act in private in which it is not possible to be contaminated by pride, training the heart toward full service for Allah (swt). For example, the person who serves at the Mosque may practise his service elsewhere knowing that he will not be observed by those he seeks attention from training his heart.
These two acts assist in remedying the deficiencies that lie in the ‘Aql created by sins that render the purity of it contaminated. Its restoration toward purity will ensure the ‘Aql remains the strong tool for the person to use when thinking through other matters in life. Ultimately the sin’s we perform knowingly would, InshaAllah be reduced by virtue of a stronger, purer ‘Aql.
InshaAllah next week we will continue to look at Akhlaqi principles that will strengthen our characters.