These weights

True repentance is undoubtedly liberating, but that does not make it easy. Sometimes it means letting go of all that you have become attached to, to reject a part of yourself, or to turn away from what you treasure, or desire, or wish for beyond the worlds. But in the end you know that you have no other choice: you let go of everything that holds you back, no matter how much it means to you, because you want to regain the favour of your Lord. In your heart there is a pain; a feeling of alienation. You are distant from faith and all that was once so dear to you. It is clear what is wrong and where the problem lies: you know it is a step you have to take. But it is the most difficult step. To say sorry and to tear down the wall that separates you from your Lord. To replace one set of investments with another better than it. To be patient and sincere and to take that final step, to make everything right. Yes repentance is truly liberating, but it exacts a heavy price from the soul.

Bringing about change

It’s a common lament: we sit there in the mosque, week after week, uninspired and bored. There is nothing for us here, we sigh, listening to the unintelligible oration. But perhaps we are the lucky ones: we have attended the prayer elsewhere in other towns and listened to sermons in English so dreadful and lame that we can only leave in a state of perpetual irritation. Perhaps the sermon in a foreign tongue is a small mercy. Perhaps. This is the lamentable state we find ourselves in. Continue reading Bringing about change

Keep your heart alive

You have to nurture your faith to keep it alive. If you let it go, it will go. I have seen too many people leave the deen, steadfast and passionate though once they were. You have to feed your heart and keep good company and close your ears to the nonsense — from outside and within. We’re all taking too much for granted; rejoicing too much for what think we have. In a blink of an eye the light of faith could be removed from us and passed on to a more deserving people. Step back from the maddening clamour of the crowd. Remember to look inward, to renew and reform daily. Remember to keep your faith and heart alive.

Active gratitude

Do our self-appointed community activists not find it at all problematic that while maintaining a website documenting alleged discrimination against Muslims, they allow people to post inflammatory statements about the Shia, Jews, and non-Muslims in general on their Twitter feed?

Of course not. For those who deem themselves fit to advocate on our behalf feel no compunction about selling us exaggerated stories, half truths and downright lies. Whether a video sowing the seeds of sectarian hatred or a photoshopped image designed to drive others into despair, the end is believed to justify the means. This is not about the pursuit of truth or peace, but about propaganda.

Have we sunk to such depths that we must now make up stories about Fox News, a pro-war, pro-gun, Republican news broadcaster already famous for disseminating untruths about Black people, Mexicans, Arabs, Cubans, Muslims, Liberals and Leftists? Apparently so!

Not content with highlighting genuine broadcasts of this apparently popular US-only news channel, our activists have now begun sharing an obviously fake screenshot of a Fox News item claiming President Obama used a secret Muslim handshake to greet a suspected Muslim — or Police Constable Michael Zamora — on his way into 10 Downing Street with then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in April 2009 (then reported three years later during 2012’s presidential elections, where it remained in suspended animation for another three years until it was finally screen captured and released to the public yesterday on 29 September 2015).

fox

The image is so poorly edited that it is hardly necessary to do a reverse image search on tineye.com to source the original undoctored image — but doing so will reveal that the original screen capture has in fact already been twice used for satirical effect. Indeed its current incarnation must have started out as satire, before it was picked up by serious activists intent on tagging it #islamophobia; surely nobody could actually believe this was real. Sadly they could: the activists’ followers shake their heads in disbelief, stamp their feet about the rampant #islamophobia in their midst and share the unbelievable news report on their own timelines, thus setting in motion another viral controversy.

Is it any wonder we look like complete idiots to the rest of the world? We wail about discrimination and oppression of our people (limited though that category has seemingly become, given widespread sub-sectarian posturing), while failing to acknowledge either the existence of discrimination against others elsewhere or oppression promulgated at the hands of Muslims themselves.

We mix truth with falsehood in an effort to make a more potent case for the sense of despair, victimhood and disenfranchisement felt by the social media generation. Our activists spend their days trawling the internet and news channels for tales of discrimination and prejudice, which they will then publicise via Twitter and Facebook without a second’s thought, where it will be picked up and shared by their followers and their followers’ followers for days on end without pause. And if a story cannot be found, an old story from a decade ago will be trawled up and reported again as if it just happened. Or a story will just be made up, or exaggerated, or turned on its head. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day: bearing false witness is just par for the course in the battle for hearts and minds.

Activism in our communities needs a reboot; nay, it needs a holiday. Truth is meant to be our guiding light: “speak the truth, even if it be against yourselves.” The constant drip-feed of desperation and unceasing torrent of despair is clearly designed to drive individuals towards distraction and radical action. In place of gratitude — so emphasised by the Qur’an — we become a heartless, wretched people unable to see any good in others, driven forward not by the light of faith, but by that perpetual inner anger at the world.

If our self-appointed community activists will not desist — and there’s no indication they plan to — many more will simply withdraw, sick to death of the ever increasing polarisation occurring between communities. We are tired of the constant litany of the misdemeanors of the other, when in real life we are all largely rubbing along just fine. The alternative — the anarchic madness of Syria a prime example — does not bear thinking about.

One day we will have to reflect on the lessons of the Qur’an: about truthfulness, kindness, justice, gratitude. Might we recall the words of Sulaiman one day — peace be upon him?

“This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful, his gratitude is only for the benefit of himself. And whoever is ungrateful, then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous.” — Qur’an 27:40

Or will we just carry on regardless with the constant toing and froing of Left versus Right, Muslim versus Atheist, Sunni versus Shia… scoring points against the other on the basis of a random story reported online or in the press, driving ourselves to utter madness? An individual decision for each of us in these times.

Letter to myself

Dear Younger Self,

Salam alaikum!

I am writing to you from the future. In a couple of years I will be 40; you have just passed 20. The year is 2015 and while it only vaguely resembles to world of 1989’s Back to the Future II, it is shaping up to mirror the dystopian nightmares of other works of contemporary fiction: ours is an advanced technological society, supported by wars without end overseas.

The Internet, which you have recently discovered, has grown exponentially and has had a vast impact on our lives, both for good and bad. That brick of a mobile phone in your pocket has evolved into a handheld computer, vastly more powerful than that huge beige machine on your desk.  Your 100MB Zip disks are long obsolete; today we can store 128GB of data on a slither of plastic smaller than your fingernails. As for your dreams: instead of working in International Development, you work in a new-fangled field called Web Development. I’m not sure how that happened, but I blame you! Continue reading Letter to myself

Ode to my shoes

My dear noble friends, my humble servants, my trusty companions: alas, the time has come to part ways.

We have been through thick and thin together, through rainstorm, snow and searing heat, on hillside and lowland, on soft verge and hard road. You have served me well.

Two years ago I might have had cause to fling you in the bin, but I am a fool for comfort and fondness. Though water soaked my socks in a downpour, I could not let you go. Though I felt pavement instead of sole beneath my foot, I shunned all talk of the shoe shop. O, what comfort didst thou provide!

But alas, alas, the time has come to part ways. A new pair awaits me in the hall. But, lo, perhaps we will walk together in the garden yet.

Directions

An oft-repeated phrase during our short-lived English khutbahs was, “May Allah give us the tawfiq to know Islam,” and every time I heard it I wished he had said, “May Allah give us the tawfiq to know Him.” The emphasis is always on the transport, never on the destination.