My old college roommate Siddique Ahmed organizes an annual houseboating trip on Lake Shasta for our group of friends. 2014 marked the 10th occasion of this meeting of brothers, two boats totaling 35 guys on the water for parts of 3 days and 2 nights. I had the honor of delivering the Friday Khutbah (sermon) as part of our congregational prayers on June 20, 2014 on the boat decks as we started our journey. Here’s what I shared:
It is an honor and privilege to give this Friday Khutbah on this 10th Annual Houseboating trip. So many of you are better suited and qualified to give this short reminder so I am thankful and grateful to Siddique for asking me to deliver this talk and to you all for your willingness to listen.
Much has happened in these 10 years: many of us have graduated, gotten married, started or changed jobs or careers, moved, and/or become fathers. Just as some of us have become dads, some of us have lost our parents and most of us have watched as our parents have gotten 10 years older. At this unique stage and intersection of our lives, most of us in our late 20’s and early 30’s, it is paramount that we address the significance of parents in our faith and lives; both ourselves as parents and honoring our own parents, particularly as they grow older or pass away.
The Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you shall be asked about his flock.”
In the past two years, in my work as a public defender in juvenile court in San Jose, I’ve noticed that many, if not most, of my gang connected/affiliated juvenile clients suffer from the absence of their biological fathers who are often locked up, dead, abroad or nowhere to be found.
This nexus doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. Fathers, ideally, provide a young person with a foundation, structure, discipline, guidance, protection and support, financial and otherwise. You remove that paternal presence and a teenager will seek out non-traditional alternatives to fill that drastic void.
I can understand this dynamic. I suddenly lost my father when I was a 16 year old high school senior. As I look back at that time of my life, I, too, needed that paternal guidance and presence. Despite such tremendous buffers that helped ease the loss of my dad, that void has never been completely filled and I have often resorted to sometimes unhealthy alternatives to patch that hole in my life.
My clients’ experiences are a constant reminder for me as a new father and for other fathers or future fathers here. Our responsibility to our offspring is significant. Our sons and daughters need us for that protection, guidance, structure and support. They need our insight, presence and commitment. They deserve and crave our mentoring, to hear our mistakes, failures, successes and advice. As the Prophet mentioned, our children are our flock and we are their shepherds, tasked to guide, protect and support them.
Some of us don’t have children; but we all have parents, some of whom have passed on, many of whom are still alive and with us, growing older daily.
Allah says in Surat Al-Isra, verses 23 and 24: And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, “My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.”
A man once came to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and asked: “O Messenger of God! Who among the people is most worthy of my good companionship?” The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: “Your mother.” The man then asked who is next, the Prophet, peace be upon him, replied “Your mother.” The man repeated the question a third time and got the same answer. The man asked once again, “Who is next? Only then did the Prophet, peace be upon him, said “Your father.”
A companion of the Prophet once asked him which of the many good deeds a man can do is the most loved by God. Prophet Muhammad answered him by saying, “To offer the prayer in its proper time”. The companion then asked, “And what is next?” to which Prophet Muhammad replied, “To be good and dutiful to your parents…”
For those of us with living parents, these verses and Hadith speak for themselves: our duty to our parents is second in significance only behind our duty to Allah. Honor your parents, give your parents the best treatment, do not curse at or mock them, instead use the best words with them, spend meaningful time with them, give them companionship, be merciful and compassionate to them, serve them, pray for them.
If they are alone or need support, live with them or have them live with you. Dr. Hisham Abdallah once spoke of this in a khutbah where he described the scenario of living with and caring for one’s parents as an opportunity and blessing rather than a burden. This is the attitude/perspective I urge us to develop and maintain.
If one or both of our parents have passed on, we can still honor and fulfill our duties to them.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “When a son of Adam passes away, he is cut off from his deeds except for three things: a current or perpetual charity, good knowledge that benefits someone, and a good child who makes du`a’ (supplication) for him.”
“A man approached the Prophet asking, “Is there anything I must do in terms of kindness towards my parents after their death?” The Prophet replied, “Yes, there are four things for you to do: Praying and asking forgiveness of Allah on their behalf, fulfilling their promises, respecting their friends, and fostering their ties of kinship…”
Pray for your parents who are no longer with us. Plead to Allah for their forgiveness. Respect and connect with their friends and family. Fulfill their promises and wishes. Give charity on their behalf or continue their charitable efforts.
Before I conclude, I wanted to give all of us a few reminders from the traditions of the Prophet that we can apply on this boat for the next 3 days and as we continue our friendships on land for years to come:
The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “The rights of one Muslim over another are six.” It was said: What are they, O Messenger of Allah? He said: “If you meet him, greet him with salaam; if he invites you, accept the invitation; if he asks for advice, give him sincere advice; if he sneezes and praises Allah, say Yarhamuk Allah(may Allah have mercy on you); if he falls sick, visit him; and if he dies, attend his funeral.”
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day speak good, or keep silent; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbor; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest.
A man said to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “Counsel me,” so he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Do not become angry.” The man repeated [his request for counsel] several times, and [each time] he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Do not become angry.”
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Every joint of a person must perform a charity each day that the sun rises: to judge justly between two people is a charity. To help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity. And the good word is a charity. And every step that you take towards the prayer is a charity, and removing a harmful object from the road is a charity.”
The lessons from these hadith are simple: say salams to one another, give sincere advice, say Yarhamuk Allaah, speak good or be silent, be generous with one another, don’t get angry, help each other to get on and off the boat, remove harmful objects from each other’s paths, walk to prayer together and finally remember: the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.
I hope and pray that we institute these advices into our lives, starting with these three glorious days on the water: fulfilling our duties as parents to our children, honoring our parents, dead or alive, and connecting with one another with the prophetic guidance in mind.