In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Verily, all praise is for Allah, we seek His help and His forgiveness. We seek refuge with Allah from the evil of our own souls [and from our bad deeds. Whomsoever Allah guides will never be led astray, and whomsoever Allah leaves astray, no one can guide. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, [alone and without any partner] and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.

“O you who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam (as Muslims) with complete submission to Allah.” [Ali Imran 3:102]

“O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person, and from him He created his wife, and from them both He created many men and women, and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship) Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you).” [al-Nisa’ 4:1]

“O you who believe! Keep your duty to Allah and fear Him, and speak (always) the truth). He will direct you to do righteous good deeds and will forgive you your sins. And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger (SAW) he has indeed achieved a great achievement (i.e. he will be saved from the Hellfire and made to enter Paradise).” [al-Ahzaab 33:70-71]

As to what proceeds: Verily the best of speech is the Book of Allah and the best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (SAW). The worst of affairs are the newly-invented affairs in the religion and every newly invented affair in the religion is an innovation and every innovation is misguidance and all misguidance is in the hellfire. As to what proceeds:

My Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters, I greet you all with the greeting words of Paradise, Assalamu Alaikum, Peace be with you.

Great Servants of Allah! As we all know, Islam and Muslims enjoy a great deal of media attention these days, and mostly for the wrong reasons. I hope that our Sermon here today will help to clear some of the muddy waters.

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I’d also like to offer a special thanks to our non-Muslim friends who have taken the trouble to join us today. You’ve come to learn a bit more about your Muslim neighbours and their faith, over and above the noise and scaremongering out there.

From the outset I’d like to say a word or two about language. Language is an important vehicle of communication. We have to choose our words carefully. We have to say what we mean and we must mean what we say. Our words often carry hidden assumptions and in these dangerous times, it’s so important that these assumptions are examined and questioned.

My people! Let’s take just two examples, “Muslim extremist” and “Islamic terrorist.” I don’t know who coined these terms, but they are in such daily usage that one would think that the people who use them actually know what they mean.

Now, I’ve been a Muslim all my life, for over 45 years. I’m reasonably familiar with the English language, and for the life of me, I don’t know what a Muslim extremist is, and far less, what an Islamic terrorist is. I do know that there are criminals and murderers and all kinds of nasty people out there, but they don’t really need a religion to describe them, whatever they choose to call themselves. There are murderers and terrorists and criminals who may call themselves Muslim and claim to act in the name of Islam. But we really shouldn’t dignify their false claims by endlessly repeating them.

Fellow Nigerians! Since my childhood, I was told that my Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings on him, declared that:

“A Muslim is someone from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe; and a Mu’min, [a true believer], is someone in whom all of mankind finds safety and security for their life and property.”

That simple, succinct powerful definition has always been enough for me. Later, when I started to learn the grammatical origins of Arabic words, I found that our greeting, Assalamu Alaikum, and the words Islam and Muslim are closely connected. I found that they are all derived from the same trilateral root Seen, Laam and Meem, or the equivalent S-L-M which becomes Salaam, meaning Peace, Islam, meaning the way of Peace, and Muslim, which literally means, one who follows the Way of Peace.

My respected people! A Muslim is someone who resists the lower, selfish and egotistical inclinations of Anger, greed, envy, lust, malice and hate. A Muslim should always refer to higher, nobler inclinations of human nature: Love, mercy, wisdom, justice and beauty; these are all aspects of the Divine, Allah’s 99 beautiful Names, a little bit of which we can find inscribed in every human heart. In short, a Muslim is one who is always inclined towards harmony and Peace.

So, if a Muslim is one who follows the Way of Peace, then what is a Muslim Extremist? Is it someone who is extremely peaceful? Can that be such a bad thing? It sounds a lot better than someone who is slightly Muslim, or just slightly peaceful! And what’s an Islamic terrorist? A peaceful terrorist? … ? How can Islam and terrorist describe the same person? My dear friends, it’s and oxymoron. It makes no sense. And yet we read about this all the time, and we hear it on the news bulletins. This is a perverse misuse of language that confuses more than it enlightens. Why are terrorists and murderers no simply described as terrorists and murderers?

Brothers and Sisters! Muslims find this misuse of language by “educated” people in the media to be deeply offensive. Whether it’s done to sell a few more newpapers or to gather a few more votes at election time, I don’t know. But I do know that this drip feeding of Islamophobia does serious harm to inter-community relations. It creates the suspicion that breeds fear and xenophobia that lead to abuse and violence. Ask any Muslim woman who wears a headscarf about the daily taunts and humiliation they have to put up with. We all need to choose our words carefully, and we all need to respect each other and to celebrate the diversity around us.

The Noble Quran declares:

“O Mankind, I have created you from a single pair of a male and a female; and I made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know and respect one another, not that you should despise one another.” (Surah al-Hujuraat)

To Muslims, therefore, racial, cultural and religious diversity is a cause for celebration, for admiration of Allah’s infinite creativity and artistry. It’s not a cause for bigotry and hatred of those who are different. But let’s get back to our central topic. What is Islam, and who are the Muslims?

In the short time we have today, I think the best way to answer this is to describe a few episodes in the life of Prophet Muhammad, [may Allah’s peace and blessings be on him]. I have chosen each episode to illustrate core Muslim beliefs, and also to show how we are to relate to people of other faiths.

Hadith of Angel Jibril (Gabriel):

“One day Prophet Muhammad was sitting in the mosque surrounded by his Companions, when a stranger entered. He was immaculately dressed, with no dust on his clothing, his beard neatly trimmed and no sign of weariness from travel. He sat down in front of the Prophet, held both his hands, and asked 3 questions: 1. Tell me, What is Islam? The prophet replied: Islam is to testify, to bear witness that no-one deserves worship but Allah; to establish regular prayer; to pay Zakat [regular charity]; to fast during the month of Ramadan; and to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah… 2. The stranger went on: Tell me, what is Faith (Iman)? The Prophet replied: “Faith is to believe in Allah, to believe in all His angels, all His Books, all His Prophets, to believe in the Day of Judgment, and to believe that good and evil comes with Allah’s permission.” 3. The stranger then asked his 3 and final question: Tell me, what is Excellence (Ihsan)? Prophet Muhammad replied; “Excellence is to worship Allah as if you can see him in front of you. And even if you cannot see him, you know that He sees you. ” The stranger replied: “You have spoken the truth.” Then, he stood up and walked away. Prophet Muhammad then asked his Companions: Do you know who that was? They replied: No. Allah and His prophet know best. Prophet Muhammad said, “That was Jibril, the Archangel Gabriel, and he came to teach you your religion.”

Servants of Allah! This episode tells us that there is a hierarchy in a Muslim’s spiritual journey:

1. Level One makes you a Muslim.
2. Level Two makes you a true Believer.
3. Level Three brings you to the highest rank, to be closest to Allah.

Why do Muslims refer to Allah rather than to God? Allah is the Arabic name for God, and Christian Arabs [Copts and Maronites, for example] also worship Allah. Allah is gender-neutral, neither male nor female. In English we speak of God, Gods and Godessess, but there is no plural and no gender for Allah. Allah is unique and incomparable.

My respected people! Islam is often mistaken as the youngest of the world’s religions, but it is really the oldest. All the prophets of the Old Testament, from Adam to Jesus, are prophets of Islam. Prophet Muhammad often said that he did not come to start a new religion, but to re-establish the monotheism of Abraham, the Friend of Allah, the true in faith. Muslims believe that all prophets brought the same message: Divine Unity, Monotheism. One God. From time to time this message was lost or compromised. Prophet Muhammad used the analogy of a building, each brick representing a prophet. He described himself as the last brick to complete the building.

This may come as a surprise, but did you know that you and I and all people everywhere were born as Muslims? Our parents and our upbringing may raise us as Christians, Buddhists or non-believers, but in our factory-perfect default condition we were all Muslims.

The Quran teaches that long before the Big Bang, long before time and space and matter came into being, Allah created our human soul. He assembled every soul from the first to the last at the end of time. Then He addressed this huge gathering of billions of human souls, and asked them: “Alastu bi Rabbikum?” “Am I not your Lord?” They all replied in one thunderous voice: “Bala shahidna” “Yes, indeed you are our lord.” So, we have no excuse to say on the Day of Judgement that we were not aware of this.

According to Islam, therefore, every human soul knows its Lord. We are hard wired that way, deep down in the solid state circuits of the human psyche. Every human soul has made a binding covenant that it will not worship anyone or anything other than Allah. This is what the Prophet Muhammad meant when he declared that every child is born in a state of fitra, that is, in a state of primordial innocence, free from sin, and seeking to be reconnected to its Maker.

In one of his poems, The mystical poet Jalaluddin Rumi asks:

“Do you know why the reed flute sings such a sad, melancholy tune? It longs for the reed bed from which it was separated.”

Rumi uses the flute as a metaphor for the human soul, longing for Allah. The Noble Quran also reminds us about the key to lasting joy and contentment:

“Those who have faith, and whose hearts find contentment, satisfaction in the Remembrance of Allah; truly, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find real contentment.”

Zhikr, the loving and constant remembrance of Allah, is a Muslim’s cure for all the stresses and anxieties of life.

My Dear Friends! Any discussion about Islam would be incomplete without a good understanding about its central figure, Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be on him.

I’ve selected a few episodes from his eventful life to illustrate his noble character. This is the ideal to which every true Muslim aspires.

Let’s begin by the description of the Prophet by young Ja’afar.

Ja’afar ibn Abi Talib, a cousin of Prophet Muhammad, was a young man in his early 20’s when he led a small group of Muslims to seek refuge from the persecution in Makkah. The Makkans asked The King, the Negus (Najjashi) of Abyssinia to return them, they were considered traitors to their people. But the king wanted to hear the Muslim’s case and Ja’afar was chosen to address the king. He delivered a most moving, eloquent speech which is still today considered a most compelling brief account of Islam. It vividly describes impact Prophet Muhammad made on life in Makkah at the beginning of the 7 Century. Here is what he said:

“O King, we were a people in a state of ignorance and immorality, worshipping idols and eating the flesh of dead animals, committing all kinds of abomination and shameful deeds, breaking the ties of family, treating guests badly, and the strong among us exploited the weak. We remained in this state until Allah sent us a Prophet, one of our own people whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness and integrity were well-known to us. ‘He called us to worship Allah alone and to renounce the stones and the idols which we and our ancestors used to worship besides Allah. ‘He commanded us to speak the truth, to honour our promises, to be kind to our relatives, to be helpful to our neighbours, to desist from all forbidden acts, to abstain from bloodshed, to avoid obscenities and false witness, and not to appropriate an orphan’s property or slander chaste women. ‘He ordered us to worship Allah alone and not to associate anything with Him, to uphold prayer, to give regular charity and fast in the month of Ramadan. ‘We believed in him and what he brought to us from Allah and we follow him in what he has asked us to do and we keep away from what he has forbidden us from approaching. ‘Thereupon, O King, our people attacked us, visited the severest punishment upon us to make us renounce our religion and take us back to the old immorality and the worship of idols. They oppressed us, they made life intolerable for us, and they obstructed us from observing our religion. So we left for your country, choosing you before anyone else, desiring your protection and hoping to live in justice and peace in your midst…”

The early days of Islam in Makkah were filled with hardship, humiliation and hostility from their pagan fellow citizens. What lessons are there for us today? How did Prophet Muhammad deal with people who abused him, verbally and physically? Are there any lessons for us?
Let’s take just two episodes:

“A woman used to throw rubbish at Prophet Muhammad’s doorstep every day. He didn’t show anger or rage. He simply cleared up the mess and next day there would be more of the same. One day there was no mess so he went to her home and found her in poor health. No reprimands, no recriminations. He went home to fetch her some food and water, fed her and prayed for her. She was so overcome by his generosity of spirit that her heart turned towards Islam and she became a Muslim.”

Another example:

“Prophet Muhammad went to Ta’if, a town on the hill I visited recently, near Makkah, to preach his message. The people drove him out with so much violence, pelting him with stones until he lost a tooth, blood flowed and his sandals stuck to his feet from the bleeding. Angel Gabriel brought the Angel of Mountains and offered to destroy the people of Ta’if in an earthquake. But the Prophet of Peace, the Mercy to all the Nations, the Mercy to all the Mankind, had no time for revenge or bruised egos. He was alarmed at the suggestion. “No,” he said, “Leave them alone. Perhaps their children will one day accept my message.” He was right, In time, the whole population of Ta’if accepted Islam, without force, without violence.”

We are often told that Islam is a violent religion that was spread by the sword. But this doesn’t explain why countries like Greece and India, for example, majority Christian and Hindu lands, remained so even under Muslim rule, in this case, the Ottomans and Moghuls. The truth is that military encounters like the Crusades tell us more about the political rivalry between powerful empires than it tells us about the deep spiritual connections between Muslims and the People of Scripture, the Jews and the Christians. These connections have always been strong, throughout history.

We have time only for one or two examples.

The story of Rabbi Muhayriq

“Mukhayriq was a wealthy and learned leader of the tribe of Tha’alabah. He fought with Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in the battle of Uhud on March 19, 625 AD, and was martyred in that battle. That day was a Saturday. Rabbi Mukhayriq addressed his people and asked them to go with him to help Muhammad (SAW). His tribe’s men declined, saying that it was the day of Sabbath. Mukhayriq chastised them for not understanding the deeper meaning of Sabbath and announced that if he died in the battle, his entire wealth should go to Muhammad (SAW).

As it happened, Mukhayriq died in battle against the Makkans. And when Muhammad (SAW), who was seriously injured in that battle, was informed about that death of Mukhayriq, Muhammad (SAW) said, “He was the best of Jews.” The Prophet (SAW) inherited seven gardens and other forms of wealth from Mukhayriq. He used this wealth to establish the first waqf — a charitable endowment — of Islam. It was from this endowment that the Prophet of Islam helped many poor people in Madinah.”

How many Muslims realise that the first Waqf, the first charitable endowment in Islam was established by Prophet Muhammad with money left by a Jewish martyr, the first Jewish Rabbi to fight alongside the Muslims to defend Madinah?

Servants of Allah! Good interfaith relations didn’t start yesterday.

In a way Rabbi Mukhayriq, who was also a well-respected scholar of Jews in Madinah, was merely being a good citizen and was fulfilling a social contract. But his story is fantastic, especially for our times when we are struggling to build bridges between various religious communities. Mukhayriq’s loyalty, his bravery, his sacrifice and his generosity are truly inspirational.

Perhaps it is about people like Mukhayriq that the Allah says:

“And there are, certainly, among Jews and Christians, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord.” (Quran 3:199 )

Mukhayriq’s story is a story of an individual’s ability to transcend communal divides and to fight for a more inclusive idea of community. He was a true citizen of the state of Madinah and he gave his life in its defense. He was a Jew and he was an Islamic hero and his story must never be forgotten and must be told and retold. When Muslims forget to remember his, and other stories that epitomize interfaith relations they diminish the legacy of Islam and betray the cause of peace.

Has anyone here travelled to the Sinai peninsula in Egypt? Have you visited Mount Sinai and the St Catherine’s monastery? Here you’ll find a remarkable document, proudly preserved by the monks there.

Charter of Privileges to the Christians

In 628 C.E. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.

An English translation of that document is presented here below:

“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them.

Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.

No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.

The Muslims are to fight for them.

If a female Christian is married to a Muslim it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

This charter of privileges has been honoured and faithfully applied by Muslims throughout the centuries in all lands they ruled.

Coming to the present day, what about Islam and the Magna Carta?

My Dear Friends, this year is the 800 or 900 anniversary of the Magna Carta, that epic document that limited the power of kings in England.

Six hundred years before Magna Carta limited the power of kings, Prophet Muhammad delivered his final Sermon on the plain of Arafat during the Hajj. It was a remarkable speech for its time. It set down human rights and responsibilities that are still found wanting today, long after Magna Carta and despite the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Listen to this English rendition of Prophet Muhammad’s Final sermon.

The Final Sermon of Prophet Muhammad (SAW):

After praising, and thanking Allah, the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.

O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. Allah has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. Allah has Judged that there shall be no interest, and that all the interest due to Al-Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib shall henceforth be waived…

Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under a trust from Allah and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.

O People, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, perform your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and offer Zakat. Perform Hajj if you have the means.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; [none have superiority over another] except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.

Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

O People, no prophet or apostle will come after me, and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O people, and understand words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray.

All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and it may be that the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people.”

Thus the beloved Prophet completed his Final Sermon, and upon it, near the summit of Arafat, the revelation came down:

“…This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My Grace upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion…” (Quran 5:3)

Even today the Last Sermon of Prophet Muhammad is passed to every Muslim in every corner of the world through all possible means of communication. Muslims are reminded about it in mosques and in lectures. Indeed the meanings found in this sermon are indeed astounding, touching upon some of the most important rights Allah has over humanity, and humanity has over each other. Though the Prophet’s soul has left this world, his words are still living in our hearts.

I’d like to end my today’s Sermon with a deeply moving description of one of Prophet Muhammad’s closest Companions, the 4 Caliph, Ali.

The fourth Caliph, Sayyidna Ali, cousin and son-in-law to the Prophet, said of Prophet Muhammad (SAW):

“He was the Last of the Prophets, the most generous of hearts, the most truthful, the best of them in temperament and the most sociable. Whoever unexpectedly saw him would stand in awe of him, and whoever accompanied him and got to know him would love him. Those describing him would say: “I have never seen anyone before or after him who could be compared to him.”

Thank you, my Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters, for listening and reading so patiently.

I ask Allah to assist us in living by the Quran and Sunnah. I pray that He lets us recognise the truth for what it is and helps us to follow it, and that He lets us see falsehood for what it is and helps us to avoid it.

O Allah! Guide us and protect us from the causes of ignorance and destruction! Save us from the defects of ourselves! Cause the last of our deeds to be the best and most righteous! And forgive all of us, ameen.

My respected people! Anything good I have said in my today’s Khutbah (Sermon) is from Allah the Al-Mighty, and any mistakes are my own and we seek refuge in Allah from giving wrong advice and from all forms of calamities and fitnah. And I ask Allah’s forgiveness if I stepped beyond bounds in anything I said or I do.

May Allah be praised; and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His Messenger Muhammad and upon his family and Companions.

With this I conclude my Khutbah (Sermon) and ask Allah, the Almighty and the sublime, to forgive all of our sins. So seek his forgiveness, He is all forgiving Most Merciful.

Wassalamu Alaikum

This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Jumadal Ula 26, 1438 A.H. (February 24, 2017), By Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene Kogi State Nigeria. He can be reached through: +2348038289761.