By Mosi Lamin Peyton
Several themes arise in Juz’ 23 (36:28–39:31). One theme about the purpose of struggle appears in Surah Saffat (37), when we are reminded of Prophet Ibrahim’s (as) trial. At this point Ibrahim was an old man who had lived a century of struggle and migration for the sake of Allah. He lived a lifetime of anticipation for an heir to continue his efforts in the way of pure monotheism. Finally, as an old man losing hope, Allah azza wa jal, “…gave him good tidings of a gentle son” (37:101). When Allah looked into the heart of Ibrahim and perceived the intense love of his son, Ismail. What comes next is what Allah describes as “the clear trial: when Ibrahim would have to choose between his Lord and his son.”
And when (his son) reached with the age of exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.” — 37:102
Through this trial, we are taught the lesson that you must sacrifice that which is standing between you and Allah. This story reinforces a previous verse in the Qur’an when Allah asks, “Do the people think they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tested?’” (29:2) After reading these verses I asked myself if I have recognized the “Ismail” in my life. Your Ismail is whatever stifles you on the journey to Allah — whatever weakens you upon the way of faith, calls you to disobey or fills your heart so that it cannot contain Allah. It may be a person, thing or condition. Maybe it is your wife or husband who does not encourage you to leave the bed for fajr. Removing the person from your life may not be necessary, but changing how you prioritize them over Allah is necessary. Your Ismail could be a material possession, your beauty or reputation. If you do not know your Ismail, you cannot sacrifice it and excel on the spiritual journey. During Eid Al-Adha we commemorate Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to Allah. Given that Ramadan starts three months before this Eid of Sacrifice, now is the best time to identify whatever weakens our faith and begin the process to sacrifice it for Allah.
Another theme in Juz’ 23 that speaks to me is in Surah Sad. This is the original act of arrogance by Iblis; and the first act of racism. The Prophet Muhammad (saws) defined arrogance in Hadith as, “… to turn away from the truth when it is given to you and to look down on people.” Allah informs the angels that “Indeed, I am going to create a human being from clay.” All obeyed Allah’s commandment to prostrate to Adam except Iblis the jinn because “he was arrogant and became among the disbelievers” (38:71-74). When Allah asks Iblis, what prevented him from prostrating to the first human form, he replies “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay” (38:76).
Just as the Shaytan discriminated against Adam, Muslims of African descent have been subjected to prejudice and systemic anti-Black racism from both non-Muslims and non-Black Muslims. Although this is rooted in American and European colonialism, these sentiments have spread across the globe. All Muslims must remember that there is only one human race, lest we fall into the ways of Shaytan. Years ago, in a casual conversation I mentioned to a Desi brother that one of my grandmothers was Japanese. His eyes lit up as he clapped me on the shoulder exclaiming, “Oh, that’s why you’re so smart!” It did not occur to him that my intellect was from Allah and that just maybe I was raised by educated Black parents. How often do Black Muslims born into Islam have to explain that they are not converts? Experiences like this leave many feeling marginalized not only in larger society, but also in spaces we should feel safe like our masajid.
In the 21st century, there has been a sharp rise in discrimination against all American Muslims. The American ummah should draw lessons from the civil rights struggle against Jim Crow laws and the effects of COINTELPRO activities in Black power organizations. This will assist strategies against current immigration discrimination and surveillance programs. Muslims should support groups that fight against police brutality and voting disenfranchisement if we expect others to oppose the oppression of Palestine and Syrian genocide.
My reflections on anti-Blackness in the ummah have been painful. What has given me some solace is learning more about the relationships that our Prophet (saws) had with early Muslims from African and Arab lineage who would be considered Black today. In a sound hadith, Prophet Muhammad (saws) is quoted as saying, “I was sent to the red (i.e., white) and the Black.” Dark-skinned companions of Prophet Muhammad figured prominently throughout his life. When his mother died, he was reared by the Abyssinian woman, Barakah, otherwise known as Umm Ayman. His cousin Ali bin Abi Talib, one of the four rightly guided caliphs, is described as being extremely dark or Black in skin color. Abyssinia was held in such reverence by the Prophet (saws) that he advised some of his early companions to seek asylum from Makkan persecution there, for “yonder lieth a land of righteousness.”
Whether the focus is an internal fight— against detachment to material possessions — or an external fight for liberation, we must remember that both struggles are spiritual in nature. Our success and failures do not always matter, but the journey does. I will attempt to sum up the lessons of Ibrahim’s sacrifice and the arrogance of Shaytan with the words of Umar ibn al-Khattab. “Bring yourself to account before you are taken to account. Weigh your deeds before your deeds are weighed.” May we successfully use this holy month to assist us in our journey towards Allah, receiving forgiveness along the way.
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Mosi Lamin Peyton is a cybersecurity professional and a Reis and Irvy’s frozen yogurt franchise owner. He is the founder of Next World Bank, a clothing brand which celebrates Allah’s Promise that all of our good is piling up in a celestial savings account, waiting for us on the Day of Judgement. Next World Bank clothing aims to to empower and inspire our community by featuring positive images of young Black Muslims . Mr. Peyton also serves as the Treasurer of the North Durham Islamic Association. He received his bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems from Miami University and a master’s in Cybersecurity Strategy and Information Management from George Washington University. He resides with his family in Durham, NC.