Sermon by Imam Dr. Khalil Abdur-Rashid, Muslim Chaplain to Harvard University, February 14, 2021. (File photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications)
One of the sublime characteristics of a believer is maintaining hope in the face of trials and tribulations. Hope in the grace and love of God is a hallmark of the righteous and those who love God and are beloved by God, the ability to see light in spite of darkness, to hope instead of despairing, and to know with conviction that with every difficulty comes deliverance and ease. This marks the inner dimensions of faith and belief. No matter who you are or where you are or what condition you find yourself in, you must never forget the one who never forgets you. In the Islamic tradition we are taught that whether you ask God for something or whether God bestows upon you something which you didn't ask for, grace and deliverance are part of the gift package you receive. First comes hope, a requirement from the believer that is offered by their own free will, then comes the gift package of grace and deliverance.
There are two examples of this, both in the Koran, in a chapter entitled Mary, the mother of Jesus. The chapter ends by recounting the grace and deliverance gifted to Zechariah in the form of John on account of a supplication by Zechariah. It then reminds us of the grace and deliverance bestowed upon Mary in the form of the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ. A gift bestowed upon her by God, though without supplication. In both of these narratives, we are reminded that no matter the conditions we find ourselves in, whether as a result of our own doing or through no fault of our own, we must never lose hope for grace and deliverance are just around the corner.
Chapter 19, verses 1 through 34 of the Koran reads as follows. This is an account of your Lord's grace towards his servant, Zechariah. When he called out to his Lord secretly saying, "Lord, my bones have weakened and my hair is ashen gray, but never Lord have I prayed to you in vain. I feel what my kinsmen will do when I am gone, for my wife is unable to bear child. So grant me a successor, a gift from you, to be my heir and the heir of my family, the heir of the family of Jacob. Lord, make him well pleasing to you."
"Zechariah," said the Lord, "we bring you good news of a son whose name will be John. We have chosen this name for no one before him." He said, "Lord, how can I have a son when my wife is barren and I am old and frail?" Lord said, "This is what your Lord has said. It is easy for me. I created you though you were nothing before." He said, "Give me a sign, Lord." He said, "Your sign is that you will not speak to anyone for three full days and nights." He went out of the sanctuary to his people and signaled to them to praise God morning and evening, and we said, "John, hold onto the scripture firmly." While he was a boy we granted him wisdom, tenderness from us and purity. He was devout, kind to his parents, not domineering or rebellious. Peace on him the day he was born and on the day of his death, and on the day he is raised to life again.
Mention in the scripture of the story of Mary, she withdrew from her family to a place east and secluded herself away. We sent our spirit to appear before her in the form of a normal human. She said, "I seek the Lord of mercy's protection against you. If you have any fear of God, do not approach." But he said, "I am but a messenger from your Lord, come to announce to you a gift of a pure son." She said, "How can I have a son when no man has touched me? Nor have I been unchaste." And he said, "This is what your Lord has said. It is easy for me. We shall make him assign to all people blessing from us." And so it was ordained.
She conceived him. She withdrew to a distant place and when the pains of childbirth drove her to cling to the trunk of a palm tree, she exclaimed, "I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before this." But a voice cried to her from below. "Do not worry. Your Lord has provided a stream at your feet, and if you shake the trunk of the palm tree towards you, it will deliver fresh ripe dates for you. So eat and drink and be glad and say to anyone who may see, I have vowed to the Lord of mercy to abstain from conversation and I will not talk to anyone today."
She went back to her people carrying the child, and they said, "Mary, you have done something terrible. Sister of Aaron, your father was not a bad man. Your mother was not unchaste." So Mary pointed at the child. They said, "How can we converse with an infant?" But he said, "I am a servant of God. He has granted me the scripture. Made me a prophet, made me blessed wherever I may be, commanded me to pray, to give charity as long as I live, and to cherish my mother. He did not make me domineering or graceless. Peace was on me the day I was born and will be on me the day I die and the day I am raised to life again." Such was Jesus, the son of Mary.
In this narrative, we are reminded as is evidence from the verses, that the sign of hope is prayer, sincere prayer and consistent prayer. Prayer that is accompanied with supplication and conviction. Conviction in the fact that one's prayer is heard. Conviction in the fact that God is present, even if one does not understand or is not fully cognizant of the wisdom behind whatever happens, one must never lose hope. So hold fast to prayer, hold fast to conviction. Always remember that God is always present, ever near. Always remember that with every difficulty comes ease. Always remember face of adversity. Never forget, never forget that grace and deliverance is on the way.