The Woman who spoke only Quran– the Two Fish – the Nature of Worship – Mortality and Humanity – Meaning and Etymology of Khutbah – Remembrance of Life – the first Khutbah – On Taqwa
[In]al-hamdu Lillaahi [nahmaduhu wa] nasta’eenahu wa nastaghfiruhu, wa na’oodhu billaahi min shuroori anfusinaa [wa min sayi’aati a’maalinaa]. Man yahdih Illaahu falaa mudilla lahu wa man yudlil falaa haadiya lahu. Wa ashhadu an laa ilaaha ill-Allaah [wahdahu la sharika lahu] wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasooluhu
[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 own bad actions]. Whomsoever Allah guides can none misguide, and whomsoever Allah misguides can none 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.
“Yaa ayyuha’lladheena aamanu-ttaqu’Llaaha haqqa tuqaatihi wa laa tamootunna illaa wa antum muslimoon” [3:102]
“O you who believe! Fear Allah (by doing all that He has ordered and by abstaining from all that He has forbidden) as He should be feared. [Obey Him, be thankful to Him, and remember Him always], and die not except in a state of Islam (as Muslims) with complete submission to Allah.” [3:102]
“Yaa ayyuha’n-naas uttaqu rabbakum alladhi khalaqakum min nafsin waahidatin wa khalaqa minhaa zawjahaa wa baththa minhumaa rijaalan katheeran wa nisaa’an wa’ttaqu-Llaah alladhi tasaa’aloona bihi wa’l-arhaama inna Allaaha kaana ‘alaykum raqeeban” [4:1]
“O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], 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.” [4:1]
“Yaa ayyahu’lladheena aamanu-ttaqu’Llaaha wa qooloo qawlan sadeedan. Yuslih Lakum ‘A’maalakum Wa Yaghfir Lakum Dhunoobakum Wa Man Yuti’i Allaaha Wa Rasoolahu Faqad Faaza Fawzaan ‘Azeemaan” [33:70-71]
“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 (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) he has indeed achieved a great achievement (i.e. he will be saved from the Hell-fire and made to enter Paradise).” [33:70-71]
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Asalam wa alaikum beloved brothers and respected sisters. Inshallah, this khutbah is about…khutbahs. But first, I want to share a fictional story with you:
An elderly Arab lady was sitting alone at the trunk of a tree and Abdullah bin Mubarak also happened to pass that way. Seeing this lady in distress, he spoke to her. The discussion is recorded as follows:
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Asalamu alaykum wa Rahmatullah.
The lady: The word from a merciful Lord is peace [Ya Sin 36/58]. She meant that the reply of salaam is from Allah, Most High, Himself. She said further: Those whom Allah sendeth astray, there is no guide for them. [Araaf 7/186]. (Sound familiar?) She meant that she had lost her way.
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Where are you coming from?
The lady: Glorified be He who carried His servant by night from the Masjid al-Haraam (inviolable place of worship) to Masjid al-Aqsa (Far distant place of worship) [Israa 17/1].
Abdullah bin Mubarak: How long have you been in this place?
The lady: For three nights [Maryam 19/10].
Abdullah bin Mubarak: What arrangements are made for your food?
The lady: And who (Allah) feedeth me and watereth me [Shu’ara 26/79]. She meant that her food was provided to her by Allah.
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Is there any water for wudhu?
The lady: And if ye find not water, then go to high clean soil and (make tayamum) rub your faces and hands (therewith). [Nisaa 4/43]. She meant that she made tayamum because there was no water.
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Here is some food, partake of it.
The lady: Strictly observe the fast till nightfall [Baqarah 2/187]. She indicated that she was fasting.
Abdullah bin Mubarak: This is not the month of Ramadan.
The lady: And he who does good of his own accord (for him) lo! Allah is responsive, aware [Baqarah 2/158]. Meaning that she had observed an optional (nafl) fast.
Abdullah bin Mubarak: It is permitted to break the fast when on a journey.
The lady: And that ye fast is better for you, if you did but know. [Baqarah 2/184].
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Speak in the manner that I speak.
The lady: He (man) uttereth no word but there is with him an observer ready [Qaf 50/18]. She meant that since every word of a person is observed and recorded, she took precaution by speaking only in the words of the Quran.
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Which clan do you belong to?
The lady: Follow not that whereof thou hast no knowledge, lo! The hearing and the sight and heart of each of these it will be asked [Israa 17/36]. She meant that he should not inquire about that which he had no knowledge.
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Forgive me. I have certainly made a mistake.
The lady: Have no fear this day. May Allah forgive you [Yusuf 12/92].
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Would you like to travel on my camel and meet your caravan?
The lady: And whatsoever good ye do, Allah knoweth it [Baqarah 2/197]. Meaning that if he if he did this good deed, Allah would recompense him for it.
Abdullah bin Mubarak: Well, then you may mount it. Saying this he made the camel sit down on the ground.
The lady: Tell the believing men to lower their gaze. [Nur 24/30].
Ibn Mubarak understood, turned, and looked away. While she was mounting, the camel jerked, and her clothes got tangled in the saddle and she proclaimed: Whatever of misfortune striketh you, it is what your hands have earned. [Shura 42/30]. In other words, she was calling Abdullah bin Mubarak’s attention towards this mishap.
Abdullah bin Mubarak understood and he tied the legs of the camel and he straightened the straps of the saddle. She praised him for his understanding by saying: And we made Sulayman to understand [Anbiya 21/79].
When the journey was about to begin, the lady recited the ayat, which are read when undertaking a journey, Glorified be He who hath subdued these unto us, and we were not capable (of subduing them). And lo, unto our Lord we are returning. [Zukhruf 43/13].
Abdullah bin Mubarak held the bridle of the camel. He began to hum the Huddi, a famous Arabic song for travelling, and he started walking quickly alongside the camel.
The lady: Be modest in thy bearing and subdue thy voice [Luqman 31/19]. Abdullah bin Mubarak understood, so he began walking slower, and he lowered his voice.
The lady: Recite of the Quran that which is easy for you [Muzzamil 73/20]. She meant that instead of humming the Huddi, he should recite the Quran.
Abdullah bin Mubarak began reciting the Quran. The lady became very pleased and said: but none remember (accept advice) except men of understanding [Baqarah 2/269].
“Arghh, Brother, what is this khutbah about?” Be patient brothers and sisters, you will see. How about another story? This one is shorter, I promise. And it will answer your (imagined) question. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
Aqoolo qawli hadha wastaghfirullaha li wa lakum
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Brothers and sisters, the more well-read and astute of you may have recognized where that last story came from, even if you don’t understand their significance. An excellent writer named David Foster Wallace opened a commencement speech with that story. In that same speech my man DFW (R.I.P.) said:
“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they are unconscious. They are default settings.”
This is an interesting insight, the notion of what you worship destroying you. Worshipping power makes you weak, worshipping beauty makes you ugly, but if you worship the divine won’t you find yourself human? In the end don’t you become what you already are? This is one reason why we should worship Allah, because our worship humanizes us. Inherent in within the recognition of our humanity is the humbleness to acknowledge a greater force. To SUBMIT to this force and find peace through this submission. But maybe this submission is too much to ask of some of us. The reality is that there is one undeniable force that all must submit to: death.
تُرْجَعُونَ إِلَيْنَا ثُمَّ الْمَوْتِ ذَائِقَةُ نَفْسٍ كُلُّ
Kullu nafsin thaiqatu almawti thumma ilayna turjaa’oona
Every soul will taste of death. Then unto Us ye will be returned. [Al-‘Ankabut (The Spider) – 29:57]
Death defines humanity. Our mortality is the one thing we all share in common, be it psychopath or Gandhi, believer or kafir, black or white and everything in between none of us have triumphed over death. Because our lives are finite we have to make a choice as to how we wish to spend the few precious moments we have. And, moreover be thankful for the moments we were given, because we don’t know for sure if we have a steady supply of those moments coming our way. 
So here’s the kicker. I gave you two random stories, a quote from some random white guy that don’t seem like they have anything to do with each other and some vague notion of a “khutbah about a khutbah.” But what does khutbah mean, actually? I mean, yes it is a sermon, but the etymology of the word khutbah actually means reminder. A reminder. The story of the woman who only spoke in the Quran makes sense because if you spoke the Quran there is no way you would ever forget Islam. I chose to end the story where I did because she also not only is constantly reminding herself of Islam and our Deen, but because she admonishes idleness and reinforce a cognizant, deliberate focus on what matters. But I believe the notion of the khutbah as a reminder runs deeper. Consider Prophet Muhammad’s (S.A.W.) first Khutbah. This speech from the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) included announcing his Prophethood and calling his people to Islam, after Allah the Exalted and Most Honored, revealed these Ayat:
الْمُبِينُ النَّذِيرُ أَنَا إِنِّي وَقُلْ
Waqul innee ana alnnatheeru almubeenu
“And say: “I am indeed a plain warner.”” [Surah al-Hijr, 15:89]
الْمُشْرِكِينَ عَنِ وَأَعْرِضْ تُؤْمَرُ بِمَا فَاصْدَعْ
FaisdaAA bima tumaru waaAArid AAani almushrikeena
“Therefore proclaim openly (Allah’s Message Islamic Monotheism) that which you are commanded, and turn away from Al-Mushrikun (polytheists, idolaters, and disbelievers, etc)” [Surah al-Hijr, 15:94]
الْأَقْرَبِينَ عَشِيرَتَكَ وَأَنذِرْ
الْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنَ اتَّبَعَكَ لِمَنِ جَنَاحَكَ وَاخْفِضْ
Waanthir AAasheerataka alaqrabeena. Waikhfid janahaka limani ittabaAAaka mina almumineena
“And warn your tribe (O Muhammad Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) of near kindred. And be kind and humble to the believers who follow you.” [Surah ash-Shu’ara, 26:214-215]
This is when the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) mounted the Safa Mount (in Makkah) and declared with the loudest voice, Wa-sabahah, which is a cry the Arabs used to herald when an imminent danger is about to encompass their people or tribe. He started heralding next, “O Bani Fihr! O Bani ‘Adil O Bani Ka’b!” mentioning the sub-tribes of Quraish by name. When they gathered, he said to them:
“What if I told you that there are horsemen in the valley about to attack you, would you believe me?” They said, “Yes, we only experienced truth from you.” The Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “Then I am a Warner for you of the coming of a severe Torment.”
Abu Lahab (the Prophet’s uncle) said:
“Perish you O Muhammad! Is this why you gathered us here?”
Then the Divine Inspiration came:
وَتَبَّ لَهَبٍ أَبِي يَدَا تَبَّتْ
Tabbat yada abee lahabin watabba
“Perish the two hands of Abu Lahab, and perish he!” (Surah al-Masad, 111:1)
In his first khutbah, Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) was warning the people of their mortality and the fragility of life and was calling them to remember Allah, to be thankful to Allah for their lives and their blessings. The attacking horsemen symbolize danger and death. But the point was that even though there are no horsemen, this danger is always there and our mortality must be contested. Of course, our most natural thought is how to spend the small amount of time we do have, what do we worship if worship is inevitable? Obviously, Islamically, Allah (S.W.T.). We should remain conscious of Allah (S.W.T.) as much as possible, remain God-Conscious. This is Taqwa, to me at least.
But we are human, insaan, to which the root word translates to “forgetful”. We need to be reminded because we forget. It is in our nature. Because everyday truths are so ubiquitous that they are overseen and unless we force ourselves to be conscious of them, we easily lose ourselves to worship of wealth or beauty or intellect. This is Taqwa. To be God-conscious. To keep our tongues moist with the remembrance of Allah. Just like the fish have to keep thinking “this is water, this is water…”
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 “O Messenger of Allâh which of the believers are the best?” He replied “Those who are the best in character”. Then he asked “Which of the believers are the most intelligent?” He (saw) replied: “Those who remember death the most and those who are best prepared for what comes after it (death). These are the intelligent ones”
 Ibn ‘Umar used to say, “In the evening, do not anticipate the morning, and in the morning do not anticipate the evening. Take from your health for your illness and from your life for your death.”