ACMC Ramadan Reflection #3

Juz' 18 and the African American Experience
A reflection by Chaplain Bilal Ansari at Williams College in Williamstown, MA
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
 
The 18th juz’ of the Holy Qur’an begins its journey with verse one of Sūrat al-Mu’minun and finds rest with verse 20 of Sūrat al-Furqan (23:1—25:20). Glory be to God, at the outset of this part of the sojourn into this sūra we find amazing descriptions of both peaks of acts of worship ʿibadāt (23:2, 4, 9) and valleys of customary life ʿadat (23:5, 6, 7). Then followed by timeless signs that point out dark albeit providential intersections of the souls of ancients. Reminiscent of themes of some of today’s discourse on marginalization based on identity and the intersectionality of class, creed, race, and religion. Eerily familiar is this form of oppression and God points out that which befogged the minds of those who scorned the prophets and messengers (23: 33, 44). The narratives of Noah, Moses, Aaron and Jesus the son of Mary in this juz’ all are mentioned as signs and affirming reminders for those whose identity is based on belief. Prophet Muhammad exemplified how to persevere persecution based on the universal identity of creed and religion that will intersect with all other identities until the end of time.
 
This juz’ can be read as a pastoral theological reflection about the journey of those who identify as believers- those who avoid the low ways of damnation (muhlikat) and those that climb the heights of the way of salvation (munjiyat) (25:19-20). Sincerely, important to note for Muslim pastoral care providers, this juz’ can be read as an exegesis of this one verse:
 
 For those who are Ra’un (shepherds) of their trust (amanat) and their pledges (‘ahdat) (23:8).
And, these shepherds of their (creedal) trust and (religious) covenants are Muslim pastoral caregivers today. We inherit this identity as religious leaders who serve as pastoral care givers for members of the community of believers and non-believers.(23:10) Be of good cheer, today because we are identified and tested with the same type of creedal and religious oppression- if we patiently persevere as believers in God and His Messenger, God says:
 
Today, I have rewarded them for their endurance (sabr). They are the ones who are the triumphant. (23:111)
 
You may ask, why do I claim it to be a pastoral theological reflection? The answer can be found in how the earliest community described the Messenger of God’s successful and triumphantly blessed life.  Ibn Sa’d in his at-Tabaqat relates this about what Al-Abbas said about the sojourn of leadership of his nephew Prophet Muhammad at his death bed: listen to how this pastoral concept (Ra’un) is theologically related to his legacy of pastoral endurance:
 
By Allah! The Messenger of Allah did not die until he had left the way as a clear open road, and he permitted what is permitted and forbade what is forbidden, he married and divorced, made war and concluded treaties. No (Ra’un) shepherd of sheep and goats who took them over the mountain tops beating down the leafy branches of tall thorny trees for them and plastering their watering trough with clay with his own hands was more exhausted and wearied by hard work than was the Messenger of Allah among you.
 
Today, I caution my fellow Muslim chaplains that we must shepherd our trust and fulfill our pledge to follow the Truth sent to and exemplified in the Messenger of God. God warns us, ‘In fact, We have given them the truth, and they are liars.’(23:90)
We are reminded in this juz’ of the classist claims against Noah, the racist arrogant and powerful force against Moses and the false creed of those who claim God came in the person of Jesus. (23:91) This juz’ affirms if you take a path and stand on some high mountain top other than what God and His Messenger says to follow- you will drown. Moreover, if you take a path after your deliverance from oppression that questions God and His Messenger’s guidance- you will be cursed. Most importantly for our pastoral theology, if you take a path that preferences any race and gender (ie. Jesus was white and male) in your creedal understanding about God and His Messenger’s method and preference of divine self-disclosure- you will be a loser in both this and the next worlds.

The second half of the 18th juz’ of Holy Qur’an verse 21 of Sūrat an Nur to verse 20 of Sūrat al Furqan (24:21 to 25:20) explains some internal psychological and intellectual causes of how believing people return to immoral behavior. How they lose their creedal and religious identity in the liberal social malaise or prison of conservative identity politics. Subsequently, this affects their theology as they become engrossed in darkness. As a result of their speculation against the ways in which God and His Messenger provide social justice or not. Which leads them to question the way forward (stuck at the intersections of their identity) because they stopped following the way of Light upon Light. As Muslim chaplains, we must meet people at these intersections and walk with them out of the insecurities in the intersections of class, race or gender identities. This is following our Islamic pastoral theological imperative towards humanity as represented in the Final Messenger of God. In conclusion, the successful Ra’un (shepherds) or those who love to be identify as believers these are those who win in the end. The remainder of this juz’ is summed up in the following three verses:
 
Is there sickness in their hearts? Or are they suspicious? Or do they fear that God may do them injustice? Or His Messenger? In fact, they themselves are the unjust. The response of the believers, when they are called to God and His Messenger in order to judge between them, is to say, “We hear and we obey.” These are the successful. Whoever obeys God and His Messenger, and fears God, and is conscious of Him—these are the winners. (24: 50-52)