By Imam John Ederer
In the name of the Beneficent, Merciful God…
All praise is due to The Lord of the universe. In the last 4 years I’ve been blessed to be a part of the Charlotte community. There is huge potential here with the growing population and the development of 3 new community centers. But alas, I have been given a great opportunity to be the new Imam of the Islamic Society of Tulsa. This is the community of both me and my wife’s family. The Quran tells us “Worship God alone and do not associate any partners with Him. Honor your parents and close relatives…” (4:36)
In leaving the community, I want to first and foremost appreciate the many people who touched my life with inspiration, love and support. There are many hard workers here in Charlotte who are building for the future of Islam in America.
I want to give sincere advice to the community as God described the path of the true believers. In Sura al-Balad we are characterized as those who advise each other in patience and mercy. In sura al-Asr we are to advise each other in truth and patience.
Each of these verses begins with the qualification of faith and good deeds. Ibn al-Qayyim noted that faith cannot be truly established without knowledge and deeds cannot be “good” without knowledge. America is a new land for Muslims and it poses many challenges. Surely the current state of the Muslim world cannot be used as the blueprint for establishing a thriving Muslim community in America. We must follow the example of the Prophet (PBUH) as it relates to our context and circumstances. This requires a deep study of the prophetic biography, Quranic commentary and the different schools of law and the extensive derivation methodology of Islamic jurisprudence.
Our Imams hold a big responsibility to find relevance in building our community here. Many people are not active in the Islamic centers either because they feel a lack of this relevance or the “religious” culture is alienating them in some way or another. I firmly believe that one of the problems with this is that Imams are often forced to follow the religious “laymen” attitude about religiosities since those are the ones frequenting the mosque and are often the most vocal. Sometimes Imams know good and well that there is another way or opinion that might be more relevant or suitable, but lest he be labeled as a sellout or modernist, he defers to the prevalent opinion or attitude among the “religious” commoners of their community. This culture must change for us to grow and progress. The Imam was trained in the sacred sciences and should be given full respect and room to lead in that capacity.
So according to the two verses once the people have true faith based on deep knowledge and thus have a solid understanding and practice of prioritized goodness, then they must advise one another in truth, patience and mercy. Truth can only be truth if meticulously well researched and then it’s should become the foundation of our lives. While most of our scholars noted that the truth is one in the sight of God, among the believers there may be various truths. This means we must foster true unity by humbly and honestly listening to each other’s truth and respecting it when it is sincere and rooted in Islam regardless if we agree with it or not. We must encourage each other in using truth to fortify our patience and perseverance and when we see people struggling on with guidance then we must be merciful, kind and gentle with them rather than harsh, divisive or judgmental. This was the prophetic Quranic model and by it alone we will succeed.
May God bless you all abundantly. May He guide you to real unity and hard work for His sake!