Archives for the ‘ Lectures ’ Category

Compassion in Islam

By • May 29th, 2024 • Category: Islam

Compassion is viewed by many as an ethical virtue. But, Islam takes it much further: compassion pertains to the essence of God, the Creator. Thus, the universe is a showroom of God’s compassion. The universe and all its inhabitants owe their very existence to God’s compassion. Adam (the human prototype) was created on the image of God, which implies that our humanity rests on “compassion”. If someone lacks compassion, he is still an ape- not a man. In this presentation, we will explore A) what compassion entails, B) what the Quran teaches about compassion, and C) some practical examples of compassion for daily life.

Spirituality of Compassion

By • Apr 23rd, 2024 • Category: Interfaith, Islam, Lectures

Compassion is a hallmark of authentic religion. The infusion of compassion into religious life was the culmination of a spiritual transformation in Axial Age (a 600-year period in history between 800 BC to 200 BC). Pre-Axial religion was mostly concerned with rituals and animal sacrifice; as such, religion did not have much ethical and spiritual content. Axial Age sages and prophets gradually shifted the focus of religion from rituals to a spirituality of compassion. Henceforth, authentic religion would be less concerned with beliefs, dogma and rituals; its primary aim would be to change the believers at a profound level: to empty them of their selfishness and fill them with a genuine concern for “others”. In this presentation, we will discuss how compassion became the defining feature of authentic religion.

Why Is Religion In Decline?

By • Mar 8th, 2024 • Category: Interfaith, Lectures

All surveys show that religious membership is in decline in America- to the tune of a 23% decrease over the past 20 years. This is a huge decline, given that religious affiliation tends to change slowly over generations. For some odd reason, America began to be less religious starting in the early 1990s. Sociologists have investigated why young Americans are abandoning religion by the millions today. In this presentation, we will examine the statistics, the factors behind the decline of religion, and some solutions offered to restore acceptance of religion.

Spiritual Resolutions for New Year

By • Feb 9th, 2024 • Category: Interfaith, Islam

The new year resolution is a meaningful tradition; it embodies a willingness to change some things in our lives that are less than desirable. This tradition has its roots in religion. Ancient Babylonians began their new year with a promise to their gods to do better in the coming year, to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. The new year resolution survived in the modern secular West- with a twist. Nowadays, people make promises to themselves (not gods) to make mundane changes to their lives (such as eating healthier, exercising more and saving more money). In this presentation, we will discuss: 1) the history of new year resolution; 2) how we can turn our resolutions inward, to improve our soul and character; 3) some examples of spiritual resolutions.

How to Cultivate Hope in a Chaotic World?

By • Jan 17th, 2024 • Category: Quran Study

Session 35. We live in a chaotic world filled with uncertainty and unpredictability. We have to take risks in everything we do, while there is no guarantee of success. Given the stark realities of everyday life, “hope” is one of the greatest assets we can have. However, “hope” is not a transient emotion, wishful thinking or even optimism. It’s a lot more than that. In this presentation, we draw upon the teachings of the Quran and Rumi to develop a deeper understanding of hope (its conditions and fruits).

War and Peace in the Quran

By • Dec 18th, 2023 • Category: Quran Study

Session 34. Islam’s critics often point to the “war passages” in the Quran to argue that Islam is a warlike religion- an obstacle to world peace. These critics typically confuse “peace” with “pacifism”. Pacifism requires a complete rejection of violence of any form. Peace, on the other hand, does not categorically negate the use of force in a situation when a community is attacked or victimized. This is the Quran’s position: it permits war exclusively in self-defense and in order to remove the obstacles to peace- not to conquer or dominate others. The endgame must always be peace. In this presentation, we will review the Quran’s war passages in chronological order, as they were revealed in response to unfolding events during the Prophet Mohammad’s mission.

The Idea of Peace in the Quran

By • Nov 16th, 2023 • Category: Lectures, Quran Study

Session 33. Since the early days of Islam, Muslims have had different appreciations for Islam’s core message. Some among the companions of the Prophet Mohammad embarked on aggressive wars and empire building. Others turned inward and founded an esoteric tradition known as Sufism. It is amazing how identical religious beliefs and practices inspired diametrically opposed courses of action in early Islam, which has persisted until today. Although the Quran provides some latitude for interpretation, yet a careful study would reveal that it is most concerned with “peace”.  The first revelation to the Prophet Mohammad in the Night of Power was a “peace inducing event” for him (i.e., revelation brought peace to him). The Quran associates paradise with peace; it names paradise “The Abode of Peace”. Hence, “peace” is the highest reward the righteous may attain. The Quran describes God as “peace” (“السَّلَامُ” / al-Salam); so, God’s presence in the world brings peace and tranquility (“سکینه” / Sakina) to the believer’s soul. The earliest vision of peace in the Quran are “personal” and “heavenly”. In this presentation, we will trace the evolution of the idea of peace in the Quran.

Globalization and its Discontents

By • Oct 17th, 2023 • Category: Lectures, Politics

Globalization has reached the farthest corners of the world; it affects and fundamentally shapes our everyday life. Globalization is nothing new (as it has a long history dating back to the Silk Road); what is new is perhaps the high rate of globalization we have witnessed in the past few decades- thanks to rapid advancements in transportation and communication technologies. The rapid pace of globalization has created numerous challenges for national governments; it has also induced a rising backlash against it all around the world. Yet by all indications, globalization is here to stay, and humanity has to come up with ways to deal with its consequences and discontents. In this presentation, we will discuss the different dimensions of globalization (economic, political and cultural), and the challenges it has created for humanity.

The Cure for Selfishness

By • Sep 18th, 2023 • Category: Mysticism

Rumi teaches that “love” is a “healer”: it heals the most devastating disease that can afflict our character- selfishness. Love purges all character flaws and moral defects. Rumi says:

“Anyone whose garment is rent by a mighty love, is purged of covetousness and all defect.
Hail, O’ Love, that bring us good gain- you are the healer of all our ills.
You are the remedy for our pride and vainglory; you are our Plato and our Galen!”

In this presentation, we will discuss Rumi’s teachings on the cure for selfishness, and offer some practical tips to fight selfishness.

The Many Faces of Selfishness

By • Aug 10th, 2023 • Category: Lectures, Mysticism

In the Islamic tradition, selfishness (or egoism) is considered the “mother of all vices”. Vices such as greed, envy and arrogance are essentially different faces of  selfishness. This means that one does not have to treat his many vices individually; if he treats his selfishness, all his moral imperfections will fade away! In this presentation, we will draw upon Rumi’s wisdom to learn about selfishness and its various forms / faces.