The temptation of those traveling the spiritual path is to yearn for and struggle to recreate those visions of the romantic past. The real challenge is to be a man of your time.
And so, once more, the sheikhs and their followers are invoking apocalyptic traditions; the events of the day, they tell us, are the certain fulfillment of prophesy.
And so it seems, unless we put our cultural amnesia aside to recall the history of these sacred precincts.
So it seems if we forget that a group of militants who believed the Mahdi to be amongst them seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca for two weeks in 1979 during Hajj, leading to the deaths of 250 people.
So it seems if we forget that the Kingdom of Hejaz in alliance with the British Empire laid siege to Medina, then held by the Ottoman Empire between 1916 and 1919, causing heavy loss to life.
So it seems if we forget that Medina was occupied and laid waste by the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab in 1806.
Indeed, so it seems if we overlook a millennia of history all the way back to Yazid’s siege of Medina and destruction of Mecca not even seventy years after Hijra.
But we are not supposed to familiarise ourselves with the past, to ask questions or seek context.
We are not meant to ponder on the long list of supposed saviours who came and went over a thousand years, each one the prophesized Mahdi to their followers.
We have been here before, over and over, but the sheikhs in their circles know better than last time. This is the time, they tell us. This is the time.
And the madness enfolds as prophesized.
I am being interrogated by a child at the mosque. Are you English? Why are you here? How can you be Muslim if you’re English, it doesn’t make sense? I think you’re a Patan. Are you a Patan? What does English Muslim even mean? You mean a Muslim who speaks English? Are you sure you’re Muslim? You don’t have black hair. Are you sure you’re English?
I laugh it off, but sometimes I ask myself those questions too.
It is interesting that our Book often contradicts or conflicts with ideas and beliefs that we are taught are part of our tradition, and yet we will zealously defend those ideas and beliefs regardless, convincing ourselves that our orthodoxies have priority over Verses clear and true. We’d rather put the Book to one side than reevaluate our inheritance or question what we have received.
Stuck in the moment of his own despair, he carelessly says to another no longer stuck in their own moment of despair, “You have absolutely no idea what we’re going through”, absolutely oblivious to the fact that they know exactly what they are going through. The one who complains that others judge unfairly judges unfairly and refuses to acknowledge that he is not alone in the world, nor is his situation unique, and that his own words and assumptions hurt just as much as those he complains about. Empathy is a two-way street.
So the tables have turned. As I approach my fifth decade — the hallowed middle age — I find myself in the role of those unwilling advisers I castigated in my youth for their answers to questions of belief and doubt. From my mid-teens to early twenties I would demand guidance from my elders, be it a youth worker, a teacher or priest, insisting that they assuage my doubts and prove to me that God was real and that our faith was true. I would take myself off to church and later an evangelical cult in an effort to be persuaded. I would harangue my parents with questions that I had already decided would never satisfy me. I wanted others to persuade me — on my terms — that I could believe as they did. Continue reading The challenge of our times
Time and again I am reminded that I have no power to affect change in the world, except by the will of the Most Merciful. Plots and plans fail, grand designs founder. Hard work, dedication, patience, obsessive attention to details: none of these can bring about the result you desire on their own. Only the One can decree the end you desire. And if it is not His decree, it cannot possibly be. Take comfort, if you can, that He has a better plan for you, disappointed though you may be. I am trying to; I am trying.
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.
While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
— Luke 20:45-47, New International Version