Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) is an organization founded on 10 principles “rooted in Islam,” according to its website. MPV accepts all Muslims who identify as such, and believes in equality for all, regardless of race, gender, sex, ethnicity, nationality, creed, sexual orientation or ability. MPV supports “MPV Unity Mosques” in the United States and Canada, where “new Muslims, old Muslims, LGBTQ Muslims and Muslims in mixed-faith relationships” are welcome, and where men and women are invited to lead prayers and give sermons. Acceptance of homosexuality and women-led prayers are two of the most controversial platforms of the group, receiving opposition and criticism from many prominent Muslim leaders and Muslims groups while support from others. Pamela K. Taylor, a long-time member of MPV, recently gave the following khutbah (sermon) at the newly- constructed MPV Unity Mosque in Columbus, Ohio.
By Pamela K. Taylor
On December 12, 2012, a new congregation was born in Columbus, Ohio. A small group of progressive Muslims came together to offer prayers in the newest MPV Unity Mosque, joining congregations in Los Angeles, Toronto, Washington DC, Atlanta, Ottawa, Salt Lake City and Paris. As with the other unity mosques, the Columbus community is welcoming and egalitarian, and focuses on a values-based understanding of Islam. Men and women pray side by side, or Mecca-style. GLBT Muslims are welcomed as equals, as are people of all races and ethnicities. Sunni, Shia, Sufi or other Muslims, and people of other faiths who wish to pray with us or learn about Islam, are all welcome. In what may have been a unique combination, the adhan (call to prayer), khutbah and leading of the salat (prayer) were all performed by women.
I gave the khutbah for Friday prayers on Dec. 14 at the new mosque. Before I share what I said (or as close to a reproduction as I can make, as I speak from the heart and not a written script), here is my khutbah philosophy: I believe the khutbah should be as accessible as possible. That means it’s all in common English, no slinging of Arabic du’as (supplication), no fast and furious Quran quoting, no citing of this or that scholar from this or that mathab (school of thought). Instead, I opt for paraphrases of scriptures and a focus on principles, storytelling and hopefully a few lessons that can be taken home and digested. It also means an open invitation to the congregation to share their thoughts, their reflections, or their own stories before the prayer. I hope you enjoy this khutbah as much as the congregants did, and that it affords you some insight.
“Today I want to talk about beginnings and about love. Beginnings, because this is the start of a new mosque; and love, because that mosque is founded upon love and the principle of welcoming all with love. Mankind’s beginning shows us that the primary motive between God and [humans] is that of love. We all know that the two most common names of Allah in the Quran are Ar-Rahman, the all-merciful, and Ar-Rahim, the most compassionate. And, these are most common by far — each of these names is mentioned dozens and dozens of times, while others are mentioned three or four times, or even once. Some of the other names [of Allah] include al-Wadud, the loving, Al-Sami, the hearing, al-Mujib, the responsive, al-Basir, the one who sees, al-Ghaffur, the forgiving, al-Muhaymin, the protector, Al-wali, the protecting friend, and so on. All of these points to a God that is loving, responsive, forgiving and kind.
We see that kindness in the grandeur and beauty of the universe and in our ability to understand beauty, to take joy in it and be awed by it. And, we see it in the small things, the delight in a newborn baby or in a delicious bite of food. This love of beauty, this kindness to creation demonstrated by God in creating such an amazing Universe is the first sign that He is predominantly a God of Love. God didn’t make the universe ugly or hateful, He made it glorious!
The second aspect of God’s love that I want to look at is His relationship with humankind, which is one of love, acceptance, forgiveness for our faults and rewards for our good deeds. This relationship is set up right from the beginning. God tells the angels, “I am going to create man and I’m going to send him down to Earth as my khalifa, my representative.” And the angels are horrified: “But he’s going to wreak havoc and shed blood all over the place.” God tells them, “You don’t know mankind like I do.” It’s kind of like when your teenage daughter brings homes a guy in black leather with tattoos all up and down his arms. You’re like, “Not with my daughter.” And she says, “But daddy, you don’t know him like I do. He’s just misunderstood. Deep down he’s really nice.” Sometimes it turns out he is.
So this is how mankind started. God had big plans for us. We are to be His representatives on Earth, to be stewards of the Earth. He believes in us and loves us, even though the angels think we are bad news (and sometimes they are right about that). So fast forward a bit. Adam and Eve are in the Garden. Allah tells them not to eat of that one tree, and of course, they do. And immediately they realize what they’ve done, and they hide. God comes looking for them, and they confess. They throw themselves on God’s mercy, and what does God do? He forgives them. He sends them down to Earth to be his khalifa according to plan. Notice, going down to Earth is not a punishment. It’s according to God’s original plan for us. God forgave Adam and Eve for their sin. Islam doesn’t hold to the doctrine of Original Sin – that all of humankind bears the stain of that original nibble on the apple of knowledge. No, Adam knew names before he ever went to Eden. Eating the tree didn’t give him knowledge, that was his birthright – and being sent down to earth wasn’t punishment, but a sign of trust and faith, a fulfillment of God’s plan.
So, we see from the very beginning, mankind is set into a loving relationship with God. God is powerful, yes. God has the power to punish, yes. But He withholds it in favor of mercy. Again, right from the start we see this with Cain and Abel. Cain slew Abel out of jealousy, and what does God do? God shows him mercy. He sends a crow to show him how to bury Abel. He could have turned away from us, like we would to that kid in the leather jacket – “I knew you were going to mess up, you’re outta here.” But He relents to Cain, and shows him how to take care of Abel’s body.
Even more, He doesn’t give up on humankind at all. Instead, He sends messengers to help mankind stay on the path of goodness. He could have said, “Geez, the angels were right. Second generation and already they are killing one another. To heck with humans.” Instead, he said “I will send messengers whenever you go astray.” And where does he send messengers to? Does He send them to the good folks? No way! Think about Mecca – rich, proud, the center of pilgrimages and trade, where hundreds of idols were worshipped. Think about the people of Noah, Nineveh, puffed up with self-importance and arrogance, so bad he tried to run away from them. But God sent Him back.
Think about the people of Lot – arrogant, denying the duties of hospitality, committing highway robbery and raping travelers left and right. These weren’t good people. They were people who were far, far astray. And God sent messengers to them. He called them back, He called for return. He held out his hand in love. All they had to do was to answer with love, with acknowledgement of their wrongdoing, and they were back in God’s good graces, basking in His Love again. Of course, if they turned away from Love, ouch! But God never is the first to turn away, and He always responds tenfold, a hundred fold.
I’m sure you remember this lovely hadith about God, that when we stretch out a hand, He reaches out His whole arm; when we take a step toward Him, He takes a pace toward us; when we walk toward Him, He runs toward us. This is what Allah does for all humankind. When we turn to Him, He is there, welcoming us with open arms, no matter how bad we have been, no matter how far we’ve gone astray. When we return, He is there with forgiveness and love.
This is the defining characteristic of our relationship with God. It is there for our taking. We just have to reach out and ask for it, and God will grant us Love beyond all reckoning.
At this point, as is customary in khutbahs, we will pause for du’a and reflection.
For the second part of the khutbah, I’d like to focus on how we can reflect God’s love, channel His love and how we can live as exemplars of love. In particular, I want to talk about how no act of kindness; no act of love — no matter how small — is ever wasted. And I’m going to share a story about myself that isn’t necessarily so flattering, but I think it is powerful.
I was at a conference long ago. It was a conference for progressives of many faiths with wonderful musicians, singers and cantors from all backgrounds. There was a Muslim woman who recited Quran. Her recitation wasn’t particularly beautiful, her pronunciation wasn’t so hot, and, honestly, I wondered to myself if she was the best they could find. It was also clear this sister was transgender. And I thought, you know, it took a lot of bravery to get up there and recite, especially because I’m sure she knows her recitation isn’t perfect. I’m also sure she isn’t getting much support in her local congregation. In fact, she may not be able to go to her local congregation at all.
So I when I saw her later on, I went over and thanked her, and told her how I was glad she had recited and how great it was that Muslims had been represented. And then we started talking and talking, and by the end we were both crying. We became friends, and not long ago she told me that this small gesture meant an awful lot to her at a dark time in her life. It helped her go on in her path as a Muslim.
To think, I almost didn’t reach out. But that one little act of love, of my checking my own judgmental attitude at the door and focusing on the good, focusing on the positive — it changed everything. It created this bond, and it helped uplift someone when they really needed it. I certainly had no idea I was going to do that. That was God reaching out to her; I just happened to be the handy tool. And this is true of every act of love. It is a reflection of God and an act of God. And, it’s always positive, even if we don’t see the results immediately or ever.
Love is never wasted.
And with that, I think it’s time to pray!”