In the Name of God, The Most Compassionate, The Dispenser of Grace
27 April 2012/ 5 Jumāda Al-Thāni 1433
All Praise, Thanks and Gratitude is due to Allāh alone, Who has honoured us with the din ofIslam, and has chosen us to be among the ummah of the choicest of Prophet’s brought forth for the guidance of the world, our beloved Nabī Muḥammad, may Allāh’s Everlasting Peace and Blessings be upon him.
Praise be to Allāh, Who has revealed and vouchsafed to us the best of scriptures and the most dignified of speech, the Qur’ān, a guidance and a mercy to all creatures.
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, Who is alone without partners. I bear witness that our leader Muḥammad (saw) is the servant and messenger of Allāh.
Respected Elders, Beloved Sisters and Brothers, As-salāmu ‘Alaykum Wa Raḥmatullāhi WaBarakātu,
We have today, Alḥamdulillāh, by the Grace of Allāh, reached the 18th anniversary of living in a free and democratic South Africa. We have come a long way since that momentous day in 1994 but many challenges and struggles continue to confront us, some old and many new, but we pray that Allah (swt) will grant us the wisdom and more importantly the courage to continue to fight for a more peaceful,
equitable and just country for all of its inhabitants Inshā-Allāh. To this end, I urge those of us who were not present last week to visit the Masjid website and engage with the thought-provoking and eloquent Khutbah delivered by Hafiz Dr Shuaib Manjra reflecting critically on this milestone in our country’s history and what our role as active citizens and conscientious Muslims should be.
I wish today however to talk about something very different, something I thought was trivial atfirst but after some reflection, its significance became very clear. Let me start out with the trivial, it is what we can all begin to relate too and then hopefully I can lead you along the path I took to realize something very simple but so powerful and essential and hope you will think about when you leave the masjid today.
I have a 7 month old baby and those of you who have been parents or stayed in a home with babies will know that there are many things that the arrival of this little person changes in your life, most involving some sort of loss, loss of sleep, loss of finances, loss of freedom, that’s why I’m not talking about Freedom Day, but you also gain some amazing qualities and abilities, one of which is to hear your baby cry over any sounds or noises. Your hearing becomes accustomed too and tuned into the sound of your child and her or his voice (or more specifically – cry). It was on one of these occasions when I was awoken by my now highly developed hearing and was reciting the salawāt to my son to hush him to sleep when I started thinking about the role of sound and listening in the life of a Muslim.
Sound and listening are intrinsic parts of all our lives, they form an important component of our communication and interaction with one another and a fundamental and rich component of ourrituals and religious identity and it is through an understanding and development of this simplesense that you can reach deeper levels of spirituality and develop “taqarrub illallāh”, closeness/nearness to Allāh.
So why talk about listening? Well, because in today’s visually driven fast-paced society, we hear many things but truly listen to very few of them. Throughout modern culture it is an all-pervasive trait to bypass the ear in favour of the eye so much so that we need to have a video accompanying a song to ensure its success (MTV etc). In every discipline throughout Western history, the ear has taken second place. But how is it applicable to Muslims and Islam?
Very simple: Every Friday in masajid all across the world musallis have to be told, “Please fill the masjid from the front”, “Please switch off your cellphones”, “Please donate generously to the upkeep of the Masjid”, “Please put your heels on the line and stand shoulder to shoulder” and on and on it goes. Sound familiar? Why is it repeated so often? Because we don’t listen! Allah (swt) addresses this in Surah Qaf, Chapter 50, Ayat/Verse 37, when Allah the Sublime declares,
Indeed in that is a reminder for whoever has a heart or who listens while he is present [in mind].[50:37] Sahih International
Among the many names of the Qur’ān is “reminder”, as used in this Ayat, because very simplyhuman beings are forgetful. But to benefit truly, as the famous 14th-century scholar Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah relates in his book Al-Fawaa’id, the “reminder” needs to be heard “while he ispresent [in mind]” or “shaheed”, as if s/he is a witness. Listening is an active and engaged activity, not a passive pastime, so if you are invested and understanding what you hear, you recognize the importance of the message and act accordingly or you can question what is being said and suggest alternatives.
Islam is a din which is replete with references to the importance of listening and seeks to impact on the soundscape of the Muslim to impact her or him emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. In this respect it may be useful to understand two concepts which differ slightly but both address the acoustic montage which have come to identify part of what it sounds like to live as a Muslim or what encompasses and Islamic soundscape. The first is what Dr Lamya Al-Faruqi, the wife of Palestinian academic Ismail al-Faruqi, called handasah al sawt, loosely translated as the Art or geometry of sound. She argues that there are sounds and forms of chanting and lyricism which are culturally inherent to Islam and do not fit under the distinction of music as we know it in the Western sense. These in between echoes and melodious expressions are difficult to explain and most often known by Arabic or Malayu inspired words – which in English do not have adequate equivalents – “batcha”, “dhikr” or “gadat”, “salawat”. Non Muslims equate them with singing or chanting, but they are much more, so the idea of handasah al sawt or sound arts in Islam is important as it shapes the way we experience our religion through sound.
The second concept is a recent one which requires lots of unpacking but fits very comfortably within the Islamic worldview the discipline which has come to be called theosony – literally meaning the “Sound of God”, or the development of a theology of listening. Islam has an extensive legacy of communing with the Divine through the aural dimension.
The first words we recite into the ears of a newborn baby are the adhan and the iqamah, it is also these calls we hear five time daily prompting us to perform our salah during which we move from one posture to the next through the audible call from the imam of Allahu Akbar “Allah is the Greatest”. Then of course there is what we recite during the salah, the Glorious Qur’ān.
One of the most beautiful features of the Holy Book is its melodious and rhythmic sound. TheQur’ān was always conveyed through speech. When it was sent down, it was not sent down as a physical book that was read by the Companions. The Messenger (saw) would recite it out loud and it would be heard and would move those who heard it. It had a penetrating effect, just in its language, style, and eloquence. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) is in fact reported to have said on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (ra)
"He is not of us, he who doesn't recite the Qur'an in a melodious voice."
Bukhari V.9 The Book of Tajweed
There are many instances from the life of the Prophet (saw) where we find examples of theQur’ān’s power over its listeners. When `Utbah ibn Rabi`ah, who was one of the leaders of the Quraysh in Makkah came to debate with the Prophet (saw) and he (saw) recited Surah Fussilat (Qur’ān 41) in response, `Utbah ibn Rabi`ah left shaken and humbled by the verses.
There are many such examples in the sirah, but while listening to the Qur’ān in order to captivated by its auditory aesthetics is laudable the primary reason and purpose of listening to Al- Qur’ān Al-Karriem is to derive the rich and significant meanings and guidance it offers to our lives. In fact listening is a precondition for knowing what Allah (swt) wants from us and abiding by Allah’s commands as Allah makes clear in Surah Baqarah, Chapter 2, Ayah/Verse 285
The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], "We make no distinction between any of His messengers." And they say, "We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination." [2:285] Sahih International
Thus one of the explicit meanings of listening or hearing from an Islamic perspective is understanding, listening to comprehend what is being conveyed by Allah (swt). This point is further reinforced in Surah Al-A’rāf, Chapter 7, Verse 204:
So when the Qur'an is recited, then listen to it and pay attention that you may receive mercy. [7:204] Sahih International
Allāh, the Most Merciful instructs us to “listen” and “pay attention” in order to benefit and be shown mercy. But the overriding theme I would like to leave you with is the conclusion that clearly listening is an essential component in the life of a Muslim. When you truly listen to the Qur’ān or to a good khutbah, it is meant to change us for the better, cause us to be humble before the Words of our Creator and move our hearts. This ability to change is what transforms merely hearing something into listening and being able to put into action sami’na wa ata’na, and to affect our interactions with our fellow human beings and our spiritual standing with our Lord.
Thus going back to the beginning, developing our listening skills requires conscious and dedicated training and love. It is because the parent is always cognizant and aware of her child and cares for her deeply that the brain conditions itself to tuning in and recognizing through a racket of noise, the faint stirring and crying of a baby. So, too we can develop our listening to being conscious of Allah (swt) so that we focus on enhancing what we hear, filtering out things like backbiting, gossip and profanity and getting in touch with the Sound of Allah/
I conclude with a quote from the Metaphysical Scholar and Mystic Ibn Al-‘Arabi in which he says:
There is nothing but Speech and listening. There can be nothing else. Were it not for Speech we would not know what the Desirer desires from us. Were it for hearing, we would not reach point of gaining what is said to us. Through Speech we move about, and as a result Speech, we move about in listening.
In this sacred hour of Jumu’ah, let us make a firm intention/ niyyah to particularly sincerely improve our faculties of listening and hearing so that we may hear those around us and heal broken relationships, mend fractured friendships and listen to the wisdom of those young and especially old. We pray that Allāh (swt), the Hearer of all duā’s, allows us to make use of our time more meaningfully, to fulfill our duties toward Him more obediently and devoutly and to grant us good health and prosperity Insha-Allāh. We also think of those who are ill andwho have passed away and ask Allāh (swt) to bring them shifa’.