As many of you know, I am blessed to come from the Muslim tradition of El Hajji Malik Shabazz -- still better known as Malcolm X -- and Muhammad Ali; as well as their teacher, who we still call the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, and his son who was eulogized as “America’s Imam” -- Wallace Deen Muhammad, the best follower I know of the Prophet Mohammed of Arabia, upon whom be Peace.
These are all outside-the-box personalities. By the time they were done, there was little left in us of any racial inferiority complex, and we needed Imam Mohammed and the Quran to balance out our superiority complex.
Our story, however, has all too often told by those motivated by fear.
When it has been recognized that there is no need to fear, the response has been to ignore, as in, “Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.”
Which brings me to reflect on my journey as a UU.
I’m happy to say it was not fear that prompted my first invitation to speak here -- at the request of Bob Ashmore, I think.
In fact, in those days most of my speaking engagements came in my role as news ombudsman for The Palm Beach Post.
I’ve done this many times since, at the request of Richard Lake and others, and Larry Stauber at least one time before this.
I think it also was Bob who years ago asked me to lead a Spring semester Teaching Thursdays class, on Islam. It was even better when he had me choose the specific focus.
I had long had in mind a series for non-Muslims on Chapter 12 of the Quran, named for Yusuf, or Joseph.
The idea appealed to me because the story of Joseph is familiar to Christians, Jews and others, and the Quranic narrative is exquisite,
So for nine weeks, I brought in all my own translations, ordered some additional copies, and we formed a reading circle, covering the beautiful story -- and any questions folks had in general. I invited fellow imams as guests. The response was great.
To show how UU clueless I was then, I asked our then UU minister, Pallas Stanford, to present on Joseph from a Christian perspective in one class -- because I had assumed UUs to be a Christian denomination.
No worries; Pallas did a wonderful job showing Donny Osmond’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and we enjoyed that too.
That was one of many programs our small New Africa of the Palm Beaches group hosted here.
One that brought particular joy was the panel of Muslim women of all ages, including my dear better half, Aneesha.
I still have photos somewhere of the UUs’ glowing smiles, and of Pallas and our Imam Jaabir Muhammad during the reception across the way.
But even when we hosted interfaith programs elsewhere – such as a community center in Riviera Beach, or Methodist church in West Palm Beach -- our UU supporters such as Ghassan and Mary Rubeiz and Bob and others have been there.
I remember Janet Fryman standing nearby following one program at the church when a woman came up to say we Muslims should stop worshipping Muhammad, and didn’t I know that all the “good” verses in the Quran had been abrogated by “bad” verses. Why am I still surprised when people try to tell me about my religion?
And although I am a longtime member of the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County, I have no doubt that when we open a mosque closer to where we live, as we inevitably will, there will be UUs and myriad other friends present.
There goes that Golden Rule again, and there also is no question that I am a better Muslim for the many words of wisdom and love and wonderful spirit I have enjoyed here.
I recall after one Sunday sermon here, a UU friend complained privately to another and me that a self-professed atheist should have been allowed to speak.
But where else if not here, I asked, adding that I agreed with almost everything the speaker had said, except I too am obviously a deist.
I say all that to say that I have been welcomed in ways that remind me of another statement whose origin I don’t recall anymore:
That if those of us who were raised as Christians had been treated by most Christians the way Jesus -- peace be on him -- taught, we wouldn’t have felt a need look elsewhere, and thus revert to the faith of countless of our forebears who were snatched from Africa.
The same lack of dissonance that applies here, I share with the Focolare Movement, of which I also consider myself a member.
As many of you know, this is the Catholic lay movement of 2.5 million members in more than 180 countries, long led by the woman we still call the Blessed Lady Chiara Lubich.
You may have heard me refer to them as genuine Christians, as one Muslim brother once put it, due to their exemplary way of putting the Gospels into practice.
Some of you know local members such as Mercedes Mont, who is a regular at our annual Interfaith Picnic, and who has attended at least one program we organized here.
Other Focolare members were regulars at our annual Muslim Convention, as well as the mosques in our association, long before I had heard of their movement.
That is in large part because Lady Chiara and Imam Mohammed shared the same concept we do here, of focusing on universal principles -- not changing people’s cultures.
So to say that the Focolare also help make me a better Muslim is an understatement. Like many of my dear ones here, they are people who live the Golden Rule.
When they invited my wife and me and others to Italy for the occasional international meeting of Muslim friends of the Focolare, we were treated in spirit like royalty -- as they always do.
Last Saturday, my wife and I were together with Florida and Atlanta Focolare members at St. Mark Catholic Church down in Boynton Beach, for a daylong sharing of the ideal that universal fraternity -- G-d’s plan for humanity -- is not a dream.
A popular expression at our gatherings is “Jesus in the midst” -- which I understand as saying, from a Christian perspective, that “the Spirit of G-d” is present.
So I love it when we recognize there is “big Jesus in the midst.”
Now, if you do not yet hear in these reflections on the Golden Rule the death of white supremacy, perhaps I can help in another way
One reason I asked our outstanding Music Coordinator, Peilin, if she could incorporate Cat Stevens’ music today, is that I really, really wanted to hear her interpretations of it.
But another reason I want to highlight his music is to underscore how we too often put ourselves in a box.
Many of you know not only the beauty of his music -- witness the choir and all that snappy percussion on “Peace Train” -- but also his lyrics.
Many of you also know that in the wake of the trials that all too often befall a popular music star, Stevens adopted Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam and stopped playing his music.
It seems some “learned” folks had told him that music is unacceptable, if not forbidden, in Islam.
Now I’m no great Islamic scholar, but I am a student of someone who was: Imam W.D. Mohammed.
Our next Imams Leadership Meeting, in Orlando on Saturday, will include my colleagues -- whom some of you have befriended at our picnics -- who indeed are Arabic scholars.
We span the nation. Another top scholar in Arabic, my good friend Imam Faheem Shuaibe, in Oakland, not only sees every movie worth seeing, but also breaks down their subliminal messages, from an Islamic perspective.
You can find him online at aclearunderstanding.net.
My own Quranic Arabic is far from fluent. Yet I pray in it, read the Quran every morning, and for decades have been reading the entire Quran during our fasting month of Ramadan.
But while music is not part of formal Muslim worship services, to those who say music is haram, or forbidden, I say: Show me that in the book.
No, music is not haram. Haram music is haram. And anyone knows it when they hear it.
The good news is Yusuf Islam is back performing his classic Cat Stevens lyrics such as “Peace Train,” and “Where Do the Children Play,” and I couldn’t be happier for him.
But these things shouldn’t get that complicated.
The Quran says it well: “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith.”
We here are evidence that one need not be Muslim to live that principle.
Of course, politics is part of popular culture too. So I hope you’ll indulge me as I go rogue a moment.
I’m a proud Democrat. So I naturally I’m not pleased with the outcome of the 2016 elections. OK, there’s another understatement.
Those of you who voted for the current occupant of the White House -- nah, I’m sure that’s no one in here -- let me change that:
Tell this to your friends, who voted for the C-O-W, the current occupant of the White House: Go home, look in the mirror, and tell yourself that you are surprised by the current state of the nation, because you didn’t know you were voting for a self-professed serial assaulter of women and exemplar of bigoted behavior.
Just don’t be surprised if the mirror hollers back: “You lie!”
And of course, I’m sure there are some good people on all sides.
To speak about labor, on this Labor Day weekend, it is worth noting that those votes for the COW not only ignored, but also dissed, the years of hard labor of the 95 percent of African-American women who voted for what would have been the first woman president.
It is worth noting too, on this Labor Day weekend, that those votes also dissed the sacrifices of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and countless others in and outside of the movement he led, in getting a president to finally say, “And we shall overcome!”
Same for those who thought they could afford to vote for the candidate who never was going to win, and now will be remembered as Bernie Nader.
One unquestionably serious leader, Frederick Douglass, was correct when he said that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
I hesitate to invoke the term, “Speak truth to power,” because it has become almost cliché.
But that’s what the overwhelming number of white kids and others did in Charlottesville and Boston, in the face of the attempted rise of white supremacy.
(Which goes to show that not all unreconstructed southerners are from the South.)
It’s also worth remembering that it was mostly whites who lost their lives fighting to end slavery in the United States.
And closer to home, it was an overwhelmingly white crowd that showed up for the organizational meeting of the Palm Beach County chapter of Black Lives Matter, hosted here last month.
If Douglass was correct -- and of course he still is -- then it is clear that much of the lack of progress today is a result of the fact that not enough people are demanding it.
One place where that starts, is voting. If the so-called “Obama Coalition” had done so, we wouldn’t be talking about the current COW.
OK, getting off my political soapbox:
White supremacy didn’t just emerge after Charlottesville, or the current occupant of the White House.
Many of us have been acutely aware of its slow, agonizing death -- and the fact that its demise is picking up steam. The signs are clear. The current occupant of the White House is just one of the latest.
White supremacy is a symbol for those attitudes that stereotype people as “The Other” -- Mexican rapist; Muslim terrorist, the black drug dealer -- and then say: “We are willing to go not to our graves, but to yours, to keep you in your box where, by the way, we can exploit you, and other people around the planet, and pretend it’s not happening.”
But not only is it easy to put others in a box. It’s also easy to get ourselves in one, for example by choosing to believe in and follow that which is contrary to our own humanity, not to mention the humanity of others, rather than using our G-d given intellect.
Spiritually navigating this death of white supremacy means holding fast to what we know is good for all. Such as Universal Principles.
We have to be clear that we’re going for the gold, as in the Golden Rule.
No, I don’t mean, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Not that one.
And we surely don’t mean, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.” That’s the current system. It ain’t working. Time out.
I’m talking about the goodness, the kindness, the mercy and love, to which our Creator has been calling us, throughout eternity, in every which way, including countless messages that are divinely inspired: whether the Psalms of David, the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, in the Taurat, the Injil, and Quran.
White supremacy is back? No, it never went away.
They want their country back? Sorry. The majority of us ain’t going back.
Right? Many of you surely sang that song: “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round.”
This journey through religious and spiritual messages is a reminder to myself first, and to all of you, that the creation is one, humanity is one.
Or Unitarian. And Universal.
Muslims say in the Arabic, “Allah u Akbar,” which is often translated “God is Great.”
I prefer the interpretation we received from Imam Mohammed: “God is Greater -- than anything we can imagine.”
But Muslims have another expression -- “Allah u Ahad” -- a simple expression that the Creator is One.
Or as our Focolare remind us from the scriptures: “May they all be one.”
And yes we are all different, and unique. Imam Muhammad reminded us that our diversity is to give wheels to the unity.
So, when will we see that unity fully manifested?
But the reality of this universe requires changing the perspective too many of us have, that it all about what I want, when I want it.
As Muslims, we take instruction from the life example of the Prophet Mohammed, the prayers and peace be with him always.
His success didn’t happen overnight.
Neither did the success of his companions after him.
Neither did the corruption that followed them all -- just like every other major spiritual figure.
But consider: If this is still the dawning of the age of Aquarius, and if an age lasts a thousand years, or 50,000 years, as some scholars say, then I say we are barely past sunrise.
The sun doesn’t just jump up to high noon. It’s movement is almost imperceptible.
Yes morning has broken.
But we have to stop thinking that this is all about us. That it’s all supposed to happen in our lifetime.
Just ask the people in Texas.
In a beautiful revelation to the Prophet Mohammed (and we Muslims like to say prayers and peace on them whenever we mention G-d’s prophets) which is memorialized in the Quran, G-d tells him:
Whether we show you in your lifetime what we have promised the people, or we bring it about after we bring you home, know that the promise of G-d is true.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker is credited with that metaphor about historical progress, which was popularized by Dr. King and cited by former President Barack Obama.
In a book on freemasonry copyrighted in 1871, an unidentified author specifically said it this way:
We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.
Which brings us to the present moment, and what to do with it.
And for the sake of common ground, I again submit that a key is always the Golden Rule.
I admit I have to remind myself of that. Often.
As a Muslim I am thankful that Al-Islam, which translates best as “The Peace,” is pregnant with practices that provide excellent reminders.
We don’t have time to go in depth today about them all, such as charity, and fasting in Ramadan.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sheer bliss of being among the several million members of humanity who have completed their Hajj, or pilgrimage, to the ancient city Mecca.
As some of you know, that’s when I met my dear wife.
Even more fundamental is the simple act of prayer, to which Muslims are called five times a day.
It is Islam’s most identifiable practice, which means to me that one who gets off the floor, after indicating that they bow only to our Creator, and then proceeds to murder innocents, is a worse hypocrite than the one who commits racist murder while wearing a cross around his neck.
The signs and messages are there for those with ears to listen and eyes to see.
Sly and the Family may have said nailed it when they sang, “Sunday school don’t make you cool forever.”
James Brown echoed the Almighty when he sang, “I don’t care, about your past. I just want, our love to last.”
That’s the goal, to which the universe is calling us.
Sermon by CB Hanif: Reflections on a Golden Rule – and the Death of White Supremacy, delivered at 1stUUPB September 3, 2017.