Today, I’m going to talk about poverty. Yet, the poverty I speak about today isn’t the apparent kind. You see, before we can begin to speak about a concept, we need a criterion. We need definitions.
In speaking about poverty, we need to understand that there is external poverty and there is internal poverty. And one is far more dangerous than the other, because while one form of poverty determines how we live temporarily, the other form, determines how we live eternally.
Today, I will speak on the latter form. Internal poverty is the poverty of the soul. It describes the unmoved soul. The soul that has been created, but has still failed to realize why. It is the soul that lives a purposeless life. The heart that beats, but has already died. Because while the body cries and bleeds and feels pain from the material world, the soul is untouched by these things. There is only one thing that can cut or stab or impoverish the soul. There is only one thing that can kill it: to deprive it of its’ only true need: to be close to its’ Originator. To be near God.
Spiritual deprivation is the true impoverishment. True poverty is standing poor on the Day of Judgment. Despite this Reality, we continue to live this life feeding our bodies, but starving our souls. The sad irony of this focus is that the body we tend to is only temporary, while the soul we neglect is eternal. When a body dies. We cry. But the death of the body is not true death. It’s only the removing of a shell and the movement from one realm to another, Truer realm. We weep for the departing bodies. But our hearts are unmoved by those bodies which are alive, but whose hearts and souls have died because of the alienation from that which gives them life: God.
What impoverishes and kills the heart? It is allowing the heart to love anything as it should only love God. See the heart was created with a very particular nature and for a very particular purpose. When you fail to use any created thing for the purpose for which it was created for, it breaks. It drowns. It starves. It dies.
The heart was created by and for God. The heart was created to know and love God. The heart was created to be given to God. To be filled with God. The heart that is given to or filled by any other thing, suffers the most painful impoverishment and death.
The human heart is like a boat in the ocean of dunya. The boat that allows the oceans water to enter breaks and then drowns. The human heart that allows this dunya to enter, breaks and drowns. And becomes owned. Owned by this life. Owned by our gadgets, our facebook, our jobs, the distractions, the fashion trends, the marketing tools, the money, the power, the status.
The heart that is owned by this life is a prisoner of the worst kind. The heart that is owned by any other master, than the Master of masters, is the weakest of all slaves. That is true oppression. True death.
As human beings we enslave ourselves to different things. Some of us in here are enslaved to money. Some of us have enslaved our hearts to other people. We love them as we should only love Allah. Some of us are enslaved to status or to our careers. I tell you to ask yourselves what do you love most? Most of us in this room will say we love God most. We say this with our tongues. We say this in our minds. But our hearts, our actions, say otherwise.
How do you know? Ask yourself: what is your refuge? When you’re most broken, where do you go? When you’re afraid, where do you hide? When you need, who do you ask? What do you fear most? What do you stay up at night worrying about? Who, what, makes you cry most? What do you think about most? What occupies your mind in salah? Is it really God? Is it really Allah on your mind most? Is it really your fear of standing before Him that makes you cry in your bed? No. Probably not. It’s the person who left you. The money you lost. The career you couldn’t have. The raise you didn’t get.
What are you afraid of most? Just the thought of losing what thing causes you so much anxiety that you feel it physically? Is it your husband, your wife, your money, your job? Is it your image? Is it your figure? What is it?
When you’re given a choice, what do you do? When Allah says to dress and act a certain way, and society says the opposite, which do you choose? Who defines beauty for you? Who defines success? When Allah says interest is haram, but your financial ambitions command otherwise, when societies standard for the size of your house or brand of your car command otherwise…which do you choose? Who defines richness?
Who defines poverty?
What type of poverty are YOU most afraid of?
The truth is we choose what we love most. When we love money most, that’s what we choose. When we love people more, they fill our hearts. We think of them most. Our life loses center. We leave the orbit of the Creator and enter the orbit of the creation—a painful and unstable orbit. In the orbit of the creation, we rise and fall with the wave of the creation, the wave of praise and criticism, our standards for success and failure come from the creation, from society. The standard for richness, the standard for poverty…comes from the creation. From society.
But I think in teaching Islam, there’s a point where we went wrong. I think, somewhere along the line we turned Islam into a list of do’s and don’ts. Into “harams and halals.” We teach our children about Hell fire, before they can even say “AlRahman-ur Raheem” (the most gracious the most merciful). Sunday school has become a place to teach you all the things that are ‘haram’ to do and all the punishments that you’ll be dealt if you do them. When someone converts, the first thing they’re told is that they need to change their name and stop celebrating Valentine’s Day.
Somewhere along the line I think we started going about Islam from the outside in. Instead of the inside, out. But, we need to ask ourselves: How did the Prophets do it?
One of the companions relates that Ayesha said: “If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.” (sahih bukhari)
She goes on to explain that the first verses to be revealed were about the Day of Judgement and about Allah.
What is our mother Ayesha (RA) talking about here? She is diagnosing, in her wisdom, why we have so many Muslims today saying “We will never leave alcoholic drinks,” “We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.” “We will never give up smoking hooka or pot, or pornography. We will never give up dating and all the so called pleasures associated with it.”
We refuse to give up these things because we have not yet understood the heart of Islam. For years we have been bombarded with the self-righteous ‘haram police’, but never have we been exposed to the ‘heart police’.
The Prophet pbuh has taught us why we end up falling into this type of corruption, why we fall into these types of sins which we insist upon.
The Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Truly, what is lawful is evident, and what is unlawful is evident, and in between the two are matters which are doubtful which many people do not know. He who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honour blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in unlawful things, just as a shepherd who pastures his flock around a preserve will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve, and the things Allah has declared unlawful are His preserve.”
But we stop there! But the hadith doesn’t stop there.
This hadith begins by talking about staying away from haram and sticking to the halal, and that’s usually where we stop. We are taught that certain things are forbidden and we are commanded by our teachers and parents to stay away from them. But the hadith didn’t end there. And yet *we* end there. We end it at: “Stay away from haram and doubtful matters.” Period. But the Prophet, pbuh, continues the hadith telling us HOW. How can we stay away from haram and doubtful matters? How can we protect ourselves from the preserve of Allah? Through islah ul qalb. Rectifying our hearts. The hadith continues: “Beware, in the body there is a flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound, and if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt, and behold, it is the heart.”
The heart is the master. You see, human beings are all about love. We obey what we love. Whatever fills this lump of flesh called our hearts dictates how we act. And when it comes to love, we make a lot of claims. We claim to love a lot of things. But like the great poet once said, “Love is like a law suit. It requires evidence.”
What is the evidence of love? What is the direct consequence of this powerful emotion? Think for a moment about human love. What happens when someone is in love with another person? That person will desire nothing more than to serve, please and be close to the one they love. And this service is not motivated by begrudging obligation, but rather a deep inner drive born directly out of that love.
Love speaks for itself. When you love someone, you do what pleases them. And your greatest joy is in pleasing and serving the one you love. It is an honor to serve the one you love. Imagine if you are in the presence of a famous person. I know I’m not in Southern California, but supposed you met Will Smith, how would you act? “Can I get you something?!” “A glass of water?” “Can I tie your show?!” Imagine getting to tie Will Smith’s shoe! And then you’d go back home and tell everyone: “I TIED Will Will Smith’s SHOE!!”
You may not care about Will Smith, but you understand the sentiment here. There is an honor in serving the one you love. There is tashreef. And it is only once that love is gone or weakened, that serving the person goes from being an honor to just being a burden. It goes from tashreef to only takleef. Sadly, our worship of God is like this:
Just a burden.
We don’t pray to seek refuge from the storm of our lives. If we pray at all, we do it to get it out of the way! Or because our parents will keep nagging us if we don’t. Somehow we’ve forgotten that if we don’t pray, we harm no one…not Allah….not our mothers….not our fathers. We harm only our own selves. You see on the Day of Judgment, every man and woman will stand alone in front of Allah. And there is nothing anyone can do for you—except by the permission of Allah. On that Day a mother will be willing to throw away her own child just to save herself! Please understand the Reality we have forsaken because we are so caught up with our phones, our apps, our friends, our parties, our highs. We’re so caught up with the cute guys and the pretty girls. Please understand, ignoring a Reality doesn’t make it less Real. It’s still going to happen. Being unprepared for something doesn’t stop it from happening. If you chose to stay up all night partying, instead of studying for your final, it doesn’t mean the final won’t happen. It still will. And you only end up failing. If we spend this life just partying, pretending that the final isn’t coming, it won’t stop it from happening. Nothing will stop death. Nothing. Nothing will delay the Day of Judgment. Like that final, the question is only: are…we…prepared?
Or are we too busy playing?
Imagine that the news reported that a huge storm was coming. Imagine that we were told that unless we seek shelter, we and our families would be destroyed. What would we do? If we really believed that a storm was coming, we would run to shelter, right? Only a person who didn’t believe the forecast, would continue playing and ignore the countless warnings. Only if you thought it was a lie. Only if you didn’t really believe. But how could someone KNOW–really know–that a storm was about to hit, and do absolutely nothing to protect themselves and those they loved? Would anyone say, “I’m too busy hanging out”, “I’m too busy on my phone or facebook to run to shelter”, “I’d rather check out this guys’s profile than protect myself from this storm”? No one would say that. And yet, every single time, we put off our prayers, put off wearing hijab, put off giving up dating, put off leaving our poisonous bad company, put off abandoning alcohol…that is exactly what we’re saying.
The fact that we cannot leave these haram things, the fact that we insist: “I will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ ‘I will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.’ ‘I will never give up smoking hooka or pot, or pornography. I will never give up dating and all the so called pleasures associated with it.” That fact that our worship has become only a burden, is a sign that there’s a problem internally. There a problem with our sight. We don’t really see the Storm coming. We don’t really see the Day of Judgment. We haven’t purified and rectified that lump of flesh the Prophet (pbuh) spoke about. And as a result, the rest of our bodies, the rest of our actions, the rest of our lives have become corrupted.
We don’t really see Allah with our hearts. And we haven’t built our love for Him. We haven’t really used our heart for the very purpose for which it was created: To know, to serve, and to love God.
Remember that the first verses revealed were not about haram and halal. They were not about dating or drinking or smoking or pot. They were about the fact that as a matter of certainty, just as certain as I am standing in front of you today, that you and I, will meet our Maker. You and I, will stand in front of Allah and we will be asked.
What did you love most in this world? What did you spend your life doing? What did you run after? Will it last? The things you chase….will…they…last? Will they help you….or will they hurt you….when the illusion of this life has passed?
We need to come back to Allah, before it’s too late. And Often what keeps people from turning back is that they believe their sins are too great for Allah to forgive. To this thought, Allah speaks:
Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Quran 39:53)
But how do we avoid true impoverishment of the soul? No one likes to fall. And few people would ever choose to drown. But in struggling through the ocean of this life, sometimes it’s so hard not to let the world in. Sometimes the ocean does enter us. The dunya does seep into our hearts. And like the water that breaks the boat, when dunya enters, it shatters our heart. It shatters the boat.
If you allow dunya to own your heart, you will sink down to the depth of the sea. And you may feel as though you are at your lowest point. Entrapped by your sins and the love of this life, you may feel broken. Surrounded by darkness. That’s the amazing thing about the floor of the ocean. No light enters it.
But, that dark place isn’t the end. Remember that the darkness of night precedes the dawn. And as long as your heart still beats, this is not the death of it. You don’t have to die here. Sometimes, the ocean floor is only a stop in the journey. And it is when you are at this lowest point, that you are faced with a choice. You can stay there at the bottom, until you drown. Or you can gather pearls and rise back up—stronger from the swim, and richer from the jewels.
If you seek Him, God can raise you up, and replace the darkness of the ocean, with the light of His sun. He can transform what was once your greatest weakness into your greatest strength, and a means of growth, purification and redemption. Know that transformation sometimes begins with a fall. So never curse the fall. The ground is where humility lives. Take it. Learn it, breathe it in. And then come back stronger, humbler and more aware of your need for Him. Come back having seen your own nothingness and His greatness. Know that if you have seen that Reality, you have seen much. For, the one who is truly deceived is the one who sees him own self—but not His creator. Deprived is the one who has never witnessed his own desperate need for God. Reliant on his own means, he forgets that the means, his own soul, and everything else in existence are His creation.
Seek God to bring you back up, for when He does, He will rebuild your ship. The heart that you thought was forever damaged will be mended. What was shattered will be whole again. Know that only He can do this. Seek Him.
And when He saves you, beg forgiveness for the fall, feel remorse over it—but not despair. As Ibn ul Qayyim (RA) has said: “Satan rejoiced when Adam (peace be upon him) came out of Paradise, but he did not know that when a diver sinks into the sea, he collects pearls and then rises again.”
There is a powerful and amazing thing about tawbah (repentance) and turning back to Allah. We are told that it is a polish for the heart. What’s amazing about a polish is that it doesn’t just clean. It makes the object that it polished even shiner than before it got dirty. If you come back to God, seek His forgiveness, and refocus your life and heart on Him, you have the potential to be even richer than if you’d never fallen at all. Sometimes falling and coming back up gives you wisdom and humility that you may never otherwise have had.
And the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) defines what true richness is:
النَّفْسِغِنَى الْغِنَى وَلَكِنَّ الْعَرَضِ، كَثْرَةِ عَنْ الْغِنَى لَيْسَ
“Richness is not having many possessions. Rather, true richness is the richness of the soul.”
[Sahih Bukhari, Book 76, Number 453]
But how do we fill our hearts with the true richness? How do we escape the constant bombardment from every direction commanding us to worship other things? Commanding us to take idols of the heart and love them as we should only love Allah? How do we escape the true poverty of allowing any competitor into our hearts? How do we escape the poverty of enslaving ourselves to another deity which Allah speaks about in the Quran:
2:165 Yet there are men who take (for worship) others besides Allah, as equal (with Allah.: They love them as they should love Allah. But those of Faith are overflowing in their love for Allah. If only the unrighteous could see, behold, they would see the penalty: that to Allah belongs all power, and Allah will strongly enforce the penalty.
To escape the true poverty, we must be overflowing in our love for Allah. Ashadu hubban lillah. Your strongest love should be for God. But you can’t love someone you don’t know. We need to know Him. You don’t know someone you never speak to. Speak to Him. Ask of Him. And you can’t love someone you don’t remember. Remember Him. Remember Him often.
Allah calls all of us who have been enslaved by the tyranny of our own selves. He calls those who have been imprisoned in the dungeon of the nafs and desires. He calls those who have entered the ocean of dunya, who have sunk into its depths, and become trapped there. He calls us to rise up. Rise up to the air, to the Real world above the prison of the ocean. He calls us to rise up to freedom. To rise up and come back to life. To leave the death of our heart and our soul behind us. Even the hearts that have become trapped by dunya can still live and be stronger and purer than they ever were. Does not the polish of tawbah remake the heart even more beautiful than it was?
Allah wants us to remove the veil that we’ve created with our sins. The veil between us and True Life. Between us and True Freedom. Between us and Light. Between us and God. Allah calls us to remove the veil and rise up. He calls us to come back to Him before it’s too late. He calls us to come back to our real selves. Allah says:
“And return [in repentance] to your Lord and submit to Him before the punishment comes upon you; then you will not be helped.” (Quran 39:54)
Brothers and sisters, the storm is coming. Seek refuge in the only place refuge exists. Seek refuge in Allah. You and I know what day we were born. But none of us know what day we will die. And many of us think we can live our lives however we want, and then at the time of death just say la illaha illah Allah.
But at the time of death, the tongue cannot speak—except what the heart commands. Whatever is in the heart will come out. The impoverished heart, will have nothing but love of dunya to speak of on that day. If or heart is empty of Allah during our life, how can it be full of Allah during our death? If our heart is full of love of this life, love of status, love of wealth, love of the creation over the Creator, it is that which will speak. If the heart was full of grudges, jealousy, hatred…that will speak. But if it was full of the love of Allah, that will speak. If in your life, your heart carried only ‘la illaha illa Allah’…that truly there is no refuge, no shelter, no deity worthy of worship but Him’—then, only then, will the tongue be given permission to say: “la illaha illah Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah. “
Allahuma ajalna minhum, wassalamu alaikum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatu.