Endings are beginnings. Although today represents the end of the academic year, and for many the end of their time at Brown, in fact it is also a beginning. A beginning of summer. A beginning of change. A beginning of new adventures.
When we all first stepped on this campus, we did not know what was in store. We did not know who the people were who would end up changing our lives. We did not know the places that would become so full of meaning for us. It was only through stepping boldly across the threshold of the university, with hope in our hearts, that we discovered all that God had in store for us. So too should we embrace the change that is about to come.
The Qur’an and the hadith speak of regret in terms of not making the most of the chances we were given while on this earth. For example, in the Qur’an it states: “If you could only see, when they are made to stand before the Fire, how they will say, ‘If only we could be sent back, we would not reject the revelations of our Lord, but be among the believers.’” (6.27)
While this verse speaks of the most important aspect of our life, our assent to faith in God and the prophethood of Muhammad (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam), it reveals a general principle that is applicable to all areas of our life. Time flies by very quickly, and one day all of this will come to an end. There is absolutely no doubt about that. So when we live with an awareness of the finitude of our time here on Earth, it makes us eager to make the most of our time.
For those of you who are seniors, college is over now. You may go on to do many wonderful things, but you will never have an experience quite like this again. Whatever you hoped to achieve has either come to fruition or it has not. For all your dreams in high school of what it would be like in college, now you will live with the reality of what it was. This situation plays itself out over and over again in our lives. Our loved ones die, and we wonder if we showed them enough love and affection while they were here with us. Jobs end, and we wonder if we made our mark. Romantic relationships come to an end, and for good or for ill, we must accept it.
This is not a reality to be feared or worried about or avoided. Rather, it should make us courageous to live a life worth living. I will tell you something that I don’t usually tell people - the people that I pity the most are those who are afraid to live, whether they be religious or not. As I said in a recent sermon somewhere else, if we believe that life has no purpose, then we should wake up each day with the desire to experience everything that we can while we are here. We should look for the best that the world has to offer and say, “That’s what I want” and go for it with everything we have. If it doesn’t work out, then so be it, but at least we went for it. And if the world has purpose, which it most assuredly does, then we should wake up each day brimming with hope that today I am going to be in tune with that purpose to the highest degree. Each day is filled with countless moments wherein we can do something wonderful in the sight of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala).
It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad (may blessings and peace be upon him) said, “God loves to see His servants exhausted after an honest day’s work.” We know we are living when we go to bed exhausted at night. For some, they are exhausted after a day of running after everything that their heart desires. For others, they go to bed exhausted at night in service to God and to the creation. What marks each path is the willingness to embrace the passage of days and nights as the platform upon which we will write the story of our lives.
We need a new resolve to embrace each day. Let us rid our minds of the false notion that to be religious is to be afraid of life, and replace it with the reality that religion is about knowing that the entire creation is made to serve us. The reality of religion is to, as they say, “want it all.” Real religion is to have the whole world at our feet because we are not controlled by it, but are rather controlled by the One Lord and Master of all that is. As the Qur’an states, “To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth, and whatever is between them, and whatever is under the soil.” (20.6) The Prophet Muhammad (may blessings and peace be upon him) is reported to have stated, “If you do not become attached to whether the world comes to you or does not, Allah will love you. If you do not become attached to whether what other people have comes to you or not, then people will love you.” If we have earned the love of God and the love of other people, what more could we want?! But the secret is that we have to earn the freedom that comes from not being attached, for attachment to the things of this world is always a manifestation of delusion at some level. Part of this is not being attached to the moment, but accepting where Allah has placed us and where Allah is moving us towards.
Kun haythu aqamaka Allah, as some of the knowers of Allah have stated. “Be where Allah has placed you.” In these days, He has placed here, to celebrate the fruits of 2, 4, 6 or ever more years of hard work. But come Tuesday, it will be a different world. If you walk around campus then, it will be virtually empty. If you walk through the dorms, you will be met by a still silence. So life is calling all of us elsewhere. For me it will be to visit my family for my sister’s engagement party in Chicago. For some it will be California. For others it will be even further from Providence. We should go to those places with the same anticipation with which we first set out for Providence.
Life is about constant change, and it is those who embrace that change that are empowered to find the unique beauties in each moment. Someone once said, “The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.” So don’t be afraid as the future unfolds. You may not find the right job until you’ve tried and failed 10 times. You may not find the right wife or husband until you’ve put yourself out there dozens of times. You may not find the right group of friends until you’ve ended up in a city you never expected to live in. And it will hurt sometimes - I guarantee you you will get hurt. But as my mother told me when I was younger, you learn the most about yourself when things are the worst.
I want to share with you a poem that has always meant a lot to me. It is somewhat cheesy, I admit, but I love it nonetheless. It is called “After a While” by Veronica Shoffstall:
After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't always mean security.
And you begin to learn
That kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman
Not the grief of a child
And you learn
To build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow's ground is
Too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way
Of falling down in mid flight
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden
And decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers
And you learn
That you really can endure
That you are really strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
With every good bye you learn.
There are people you will hug this weekend that you may never see again on the face of this earth. There are places you will visit this weekend that you may never step foot in again. These moments, as with all moments, will pass into oblivion, recollected in their fullness only by the One who knows all things completely. So be with these moments, and be with the moments that come after them, and the ones that come after those.
You have no idea what the future holds, but do not worry, for Allah already has it all figured out. Focus instead on what Allah has asked of you. Each moment presents itself as a moment to learn something beneficial, a moment to make the right choice, a moment to remember God, a moment to help your fellow creation, a moment to be as we are supposed to be. It is the hardest thing to do in life, but it is also the most glorious. It is something we all must do, wherever we may be. For behind the facade of what we will do with our lives, is the reality of what we are doing with our lives. Doctor, lawyer, engineer, politician, academic, activist, artist - this is not what matters. What matters is who we are.
For every student who has ever come and spoken with me about any matter, I have but one wish for them: that they become saints. Sainthood in Islam is called wilaya, which means to be protected and befriended by God. For every endeavor, every scenario, every reality that we can imagine, from the beginning of civilization until the distant future, if one were to reach the state where they are protected and befriended by God, then nothing else would matter. Poverty, loneliness, and oppression - these are fleeting trials for the awliya, the ones blessed with wilaya, and in fact are seen as gifts from God. Poverty protects the wali, the saint, from unlawful sustenance. Loneliness protects her from the wickedness of other people. Oppression provides an opportunity to undertake the greatest jihad - speaking a word of truth in front of an unjust authority. If one is protected and befriended by God, then what is their to fear?! And that is why the Qur’an states: “Behold! Verily on the friends of God there is no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (10.62)
So as you leave this place, if this may be the last jumu’ah khutba you hear for awhile for whatever reason, know that it is because I respect all of you that I wish for all of us the best of this world and the next, which is the special gift given to the friends of God. I wish for all of us to be saints, because my parents, Brown University, and the Prophet Muhammad (may blessings and peace be upon him) have all taught me that a life wasted is a life devoid of high aspirations. If we become lawyers, why shouldn’t we think of ourselves as capable of becoming Supreme Court Justices. If we become business people, why shouldn’t we think of ourselves as capable of becoming billionaires. And if we testify to our faith in God and His Messenger (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam), why should we not aspire to the loftiest heights? Only Allah (blessed and exalted!) can determine whether or not we will hit the mark in any endeavor, but we can own our intentions, have the highest aspirations possible, and work with seriousness and diligence to reach our goals. Hard work is the absolute prerequisite, and then God will take us as high as He so chooses, and whatever He gives us, we are thankful for it, and we are patient whenever He chooses to withhold or take away. And let us know, know from the bottom of your hearts, that it is impossible for God to let us down, ever, and that is why those whom He befriends shalt not fear, nor shall they grieve. May we all be counted amongst them, ameen, and may we all enjoy each other’s company once again in the company of al-Habeeb al-Mustafa (sallAllahu alayhi wa aalihi wa sallam), birahmatika ya arham al-rahimeen!