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Category: Faith (Page 3 of 26)

Are you sure?

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.

Verses ignored

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.

Empathy

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.

Muhaddithin

Some people seem to have forgotten that we have what is called the science of hadith precisely because there were problems with hadith. It was an attempt to separate truth from falsehood.

It’s tragic that all of this has been forgotten, such that whenever anyone attempts to evaluate hadith in this day and age, there is a knee-jerk reaction from the community: you’re deniers of hadith, you’re modernist liberals, you’re heretics…

Of course these are age-old accusations, levelled even at those scholars who devoted their lives to evaluating the veracity of hadith — some of whom, ironically, are revered as the top muhaddithin by the masses today.

The challenge of our times

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.

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Inshallah

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.

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.

Haughty scribes

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

The more I learn, the less I am certain about

Don’t look back in anger

Why do we make our lives so difficult for ourselves and others? It happens all the time: we adopt the most hardline positions in matters of religion, which we enforce on others as the only true way, impossible though they are to live up to.

How many times must we see it play out before us? Repeatedly we have witnessed those who once focussed zealously on the minutiae of fiqh later turn their back on religion altogether. In their eyes the rest of us were like faithless heathens, who could be lambasted for apparently doing our wudu incorrectly or for taking a photograph or for falling short in some other way. Every time we encountered one another, something new would be wrong with our practice, or our beliefs, or the way we dressed.

But where are these righteous ones now? In the end they decided they could no longer believe in the uncompromising path they had invented for themselves and, instead of looking back on all of those other ways they had so fiercely rejected, they threw out the whole, turning on it with derision and mockery.

Never did they ask themselves, “Is my understanding at fault?” Never did they wonder if those they had been taught to reject as faithless innovators had something they were missing. Never did they think to question what constituted orthodoxy, or to probe the force of politics and violence on their understanding of religion. Never did they allow themselves to question the assumptions that formed their worldview. Instead, both in faith and faithlessness, only absolutes would do: the absolutes of the past would be replaced by the new absolutes of the present. Never is there doubt, neither in belief nor disbelief.

Who dares look outside the self-imposed boundaries which confine us? Who dares ask those unsettling questions which bubble away deep within? Who will allow themselves to open that box which nobody dares open, to prise off the lid and look inside? Who will acknowledge the minuscule proportions of their knowledge with humility and reject the absolutism of the arrogant self?

Though individual truths and signs may abound, absolute truth is not found on YouTube or in the forums of the proselytes and rejectors. The one who rejects might lead toward a truer reality than the one who appears to believe. You might reject an absolute which has no basis and find yourself the true believer; you might insist on an absolute which has no basis and find yourself a disbeliever unbeknownst.

Why rush to judgement, replacing one set of absolutes with another? Why not hold back in shy humility and simply confess, “I do not know” or “I am not sure”? Why jump from dissatisfaction with your inherited worldview to rejection of every tradition you dared not contemplate or consider? Why, when you have rejected all, must you still insist that only the orthodoxy you rejected could possibly represent the whole, that only its scholars may be representative of its reality, that those ideas alone are significant? Why be like those ravaging absolutists intent on destroying the great libraries of Timbuktu, who would incinerate every inkling of a different reading of faith?

Pause for a moment, take stock. Let your questions be your guide. This road is long and wide. Take it slowly. Interrogate yourself and tradition. Be prepared to travel far; to walk that lonely road in search of answers. The crowded avenues of the online forum may briefly appear comforting and true to the traveller in search of certainty, but at best they offer but partial respite — but fragments of possibility. Why insist on such a narrow reading of history and religion, whether as a believer or disbeliever? Why narrow your horizons and restrict your view? Why make things so difficult on yourself, when everything else has always been made so easy?

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