Questionable facts

Why do you present something as certain fact, that you only believe to be true? Today, online, you began the day circulating the claim far and wide that St. Mary’s hospital has amassed over 100 dead bodies from Grenfell Tower fire and that Chelsea and Westminster hospital has even more. The actual death toll, you told us, is not being released to prevent public furore and outcry.

For reasons known only to yourself, you chose not to preface your claims that you had heard reports that this was the case. You chose not to tell us who you had heard the reports from, or explain how they knew, or whether you had heard it directly from the source, or via the friend of a friend of a friend. Instead you presented it as certain fact, allowing your claims to be shared hundreds of times and be viewed by thousands.

Nobody, nobody, nobody denies that the final death toll of this heartbreaking tragedy will likely be much, much higher than the figures released so far, as the emergency services go through the painstaking and horrific process of recovering bodies from the charred carcass of the tower block. Everybody is fearing the worst.

But in this, I am with the Commander of the Metropolitan Police when he says:

“What is important for me is I will only say something that I know to be true. I know at least 30 people who have died and sadly I do believe those numbers who have died will increase.”

Circulating claims of a massive cover up, of hundreds of bodies already recovered, but officially denied, which would demand the collusion of thousands of health and emergency staff, is of no benefit to anyone, least of all the survivors, families, relatives, loved ones, neighbours and friends, who at this time need comfort, compassion, support, hope and, above all, certainty. Won’t you have mercy on their souls?

Nobody is claiming that the death toll is unimportant. Nobody is downplaying the horror of this catastrophic tragedy. An in-depth criminal investigation must be carried out in full. People must be held to account for this disaster.

But I write all this to you, my esteemed old friend, because you are a man with great influence in your community. You are followed by hundreds on social media alone. Through your work in the media and in community activism you have a reach of thousands. When you say something it matters: people listen to you, believe in you, trust you and respect what you say. You’re not an insignificant nobody, like me, penning a blog that nobody reads.

When you have influence of that kind, the onus is on you to tell the truth all the more. To be clear about the nature of the report you are sharing with others. People believe everything the pious ones tell them (though, to be sure, I hardly believe anything any more).

So tell me: did you obtain this information first hand, from someone whose reliability you can vouch for, who is who they say they are, and has first hand knowledge of the information you have now shared far and wide without a moment’s pause, and which has now been shared repeatedly by others on the basis that you’re the trustworthy soul we’ve always known you to be? And do you think it matters?

Reports

There is a clear difference between “it is reported that such and such happened” and “such and such happened”, let alone, “I believe it happened”.

We are familiar with this concept in the science of hadith, where we learn, “It is reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said…” The learned draw this distinction for good reason: to attribute words to him, while allowing for the possibility that he did not in fact say them.

We did not hear those words from him directly and verbatim — they are a report — so it is entirely possible that it is not what he said. It could be part of what he said; something somebody else said attributed to him in error; his words paraphrased or misinterpreted; or even an outright fabrication. If there was no possibility of error or ill-intent, the science of hadith would never have developed.

Mindful of our heritage of verification then, it is both surprising and depressing that in our daily lives and dealings with others we jettison these principles almost entirely.

Just watch what happens when a totally unverified claim is published on Facebook. How many pause to ask where the information came from, who reported it, how it was communicated? Instead it is treated as certain fact and immediately shared far and wide as “the truth”, even if it contradicts all other reports.

Ask those questions at your peril, and prepare to be lambasted as an uncaring oaf, who must be browbeaten into submission under the weight of emotional arguments nobody in fact deny. Circular reason will be employed to obfuscate what you were saying.

Truth, in short, is of no concern here.

Partial truths, contingent truths, half-truths: all are acceptable if they help enforce the wider point and achieve the ultimate end. Although, of course, the Qur’an begs to differ:

“And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know it.”

We are called upon to witness to truth, even against ourselves (as painful and difficult as that is). To verify information when it comes to us. To be patient in the face of uncertainty and adversity. To act on the basis of information that is certain and true.

Double-Speak

And so, once more, society demands that you forget all that passed before the latest reboot of our narrative. Wipe clean your memory; reset your cache. Whatever you observed in the past is no longer of any consequence. Only the discourse of today need trouble you. Acquiesce to the demands of the moment, where history, however recent, is and will always be irrelevant.

From our perspective, what happened fives years ago is ancient history, let alone the Cold War, two world wars and European colonialism: those were an epoch ago, close to the dawn of time, where the Battle of Hastings, the Roman Conquests and the construction of the Pyramids all blur together as a hazy recollection of our pre-existence, before our birth. Continue reading Double-Speak

Down the rabbit hole

The triumphant traditionalists demand that we wipe our memory clean, and forget the rebellion they enjoined at the turn of the decade, when answers were apparently easy and divine right on their side.

And now those same short-sighted scholars, who could not anticipate the anarchy that would unfold, tell us that they are the answer to all this madness. That they alone can deliver us from this nightmare, with their grand appeals to traditional Sunni Islam, which gave the world 1400 years of peace and security.

It is as if they dwell in cloud cuckoo land, oblivious to the impact of their own words on the world we live in, and yet still their disciples hang on their every word, celebrating their impenetrable insight and their indisputable appeals to truth. And the rest of us: we are to nod our heads unflinchingly, to sigh with relief, to celebrate our glorious inheritance, so perfect and fair and true, in the face of this momentary aberration in the space-time continuum.

So we are told with almost convincing certainty that Muslim societies have never faced a challenge as great as this, neither from the ravages of colonialism nor the forays of Umayyad rule, nor from the devastation wrought by the Mongol Empire or the plunder of the Crusades — and never have we witnessed the rise of such a heresy before, so profound and alien and unworthy of respect as the scourge of ISIS and its ideology.

Of course, here collective, communal amnesia is an absolute necessity. Ignorance is not just recommended, but a precondition for all that follows. You shall not ask about the witch-hunts of old, when Mutazila scholars were declared heretics, or of physical armed conflict between followers of the different schools, or of scholarly rulings in ancient tomes which stick out like a sore thumb. No, you shall numb all such questions, and turn away from them, and push them away, and deposit them in the dustbin of your mind, to be forgotten, ignored, erased — and instead you shall nod your head, and applaud the speaker for his irrefutable claims and wise words.

So go on: applaud. Forget about everything the scholars told you half a decade ago, with their call to arms against the cruel dictator, when the rebellion was supposed to be the harbinger of the promised one — a short-lived, temporary struggle that would usher in a new epoch of peace and justice. Obliterate from your minds their once-wise counsel, which accidentally opened doors that should forever have remained firmly closed. Overlook all that, and lend your ear once more!

Turn not to experts and authorities specialising in security, intelligence and education, or psychology and defence. Turn instead to venerable ulema: they alone can save these easily-brainwashed young minds. Only these noble sages can defeat the poisonous ideology of hate. It is for the ulema to decide how to defeat this ideology. And the panacea is clear: the revival of mainstream Sunni Islam is the miracle elixir, to be consumed like medicine, dispensed by eminent physicians of pure mind and erudite learning.

So let’s be Alice once more. Just because we found ourselves out of our depth and unable to unlock the doors before us when we sipped from the last bottle labelled ‘Drink Me’, it does not mean we should turn away from a piece of cake that begs us, ‘Eat me’. You never know what doors may open, if only you take your chance.

So listen to the wise one once more. Take heed of his remedy for all of our ills. It is the traditionalism of the four schools, though obviously not the parts of the schools which call us to replicate the behaviour of the ideologues we so condemn. It is the traditionalism of the state guided by the ulema, though obviously not the ulema who sanctioned the actions brought to life by the ideologues we condemn. It is that traditionalism of old, which has room for everyone to express his opinion in the most respectful way, so long as he is not a heretic or an apostate, or lay person. In short, it is the traditionalism of our imagination, which is everything our opposite is not.

So join us now, and come with us down our rabbit hole.

On the commoditisation of Ramadan

I’m not sure how I feel about the commoditisation of Ramadan by the charity sector. On the one hand, Ramadan is a month of mercy and giving, when charitable deeds are blessed and multiplied. On the other hand, each year my unease grows in the face of the apparent exploitation of religion and religious sentiment for material gains across the board. It’s an odd quandary.