You probably don’t remember me, but you took me under your wing in the late evening of the day I uttered my testimony of faith. You wanted me to embrace what you now rebuff as Islamism; I wasn’t interested (few of us were, but we were polite enough not to deeply trouble you). I had just embraced the oneness of God. Indeed, I had just acknowledged the existence of God. I had just set out on the road of faith; to you it was all about ideology and neo-imperialism. We were singing from different hymn books, so to speak. Continue reading Dear Celebrity Reformer
It was not long ago that I held a smug sense of satisfaction that our tradition had not been burdened by the intellectual acrobatics that characterised the first three hundred years of Christian history in the run up to the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. But the more I learn about the intellectual endeavours of the scholars of our own tradition — some brilliant beyond comprehension, some patently absurd to the unlearned mind — the more I realise how terribly naïve I was. Continue reading The burden of history
Nobody in their right mind should ever hope to become a person of influence — to be famous, celebrated, important — for in occupying that position, they lose the ability to hold their own opinions. That is the end of freedom of conscience. To be unknown and obscure has to be the best way to be. To believe as the heart commands, not as the crowd or mob demands.
Gradually there is an awakening within. New thoughts emerge, no longer the taboo they once were. Realisations dawn, and then become a new norm: it is as if over the past 15 years, as I’ve toyed with various sectarian narratives of Islam, I have allowed naql to completely trump ‘aql. Continue reading Renewal
Marriages are complex. In the relationship not just between husband and wife, but also with parents, in-laws, siblings and children, are manifold dynamics. When things go wrong, it is hard enough for those intimately involved to apportion blame, let alone those on the outside looking in. Continue reading Soul mates
There will be no sympathy amongst Muslims on social media today for three British teenage girls allegedly running for their lives from those they once thought they were obliged to support. No, instead they must be mocked and showered with scorn. This is how we deal with our children today.
But it is our community and its leaders who have failed teenagers like these. Twenty years ago, youngsters like this were being harangued with the notion that it is an individual obligation to work for the re-establishment of the caliphate.
Today’s youth, unfortunately, are being harangued to accept that the caliphate has been established and that it is an obligation to join it. If you know little of your religion, those arguments can sound convincing: they are couched in pseudo-legal terms and seem to appeal to indisputable sources.
Many of us probably remember being bullied into agreeing to these aims when we were younger. But back then we did not have the amplified voice of social media resonating every waking minute of the day. Strangers were not grooming us on Twitter. We did not have access to video-on-demand, searing us with propaganda.
Some of us are still waiting for our celebrated advocacy groups to speak out. To jettison their all-consuming PR agenda and actually reach out to these youngsters with a word of advice and warning. But listen: did you hear it? That deafening silence.
Collectively we have failed teenagers like these. And that is all the more evident on social media today: we do not see them as adolescents who could have gone on to study A-Levels and perhaps enter Higher Education, taking the time to grow into confident young adults. We have turned them into instant adults, to be married off or condemned.
But it’s we who stand condemned.
Somehow we need to lose this fixation with “Wahabis” and recognise that the “Traditionalist” movement is not immune to those characteristics frequently decried: abusive marriages, extreme arrogance, obscuring teachings, enforcing hard-line opinions, pushing the Qur’an to the side, making takfir on other Muslims, promoting ugly sectarianism…
Da’ish is justifiably the target of our wrath today, but mainstream Sunni-Ashari-Sufi Muslims (like others) were quite capable of slaughtering their opponents in large numbers in the past—it’s just that today they neither have the financing or access to political power they once enjoyed.
It’s about time we recognised that the fanaticism sometimes present in these movements is derived from human traits which transcend the sectarian divides. If we are to succeed, we must take ourselves to account, measuring ourselves against the truth, not loyalty to our team.
I was raised on the Gospels of the Christian New Testament, its parables ever-present. Some of those words never leave you: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, but pay no attention to the plank in your own eye…” 1
If we are to start to create a better world for ourselves and others, we must begin to put our own houses in order. There is a lot of rot in our communities; too much rejoicing in what we think we’ve got and not enough introspection. If we continue to eulogize our team, regardless of its shortcomings, we will almost certainly fail. The time has come to take ourselves to account.
- Gospel of Matthew 7:3-5 ↩
Much of what passes for religiosity or piety in our communities could more accurately be described as abuse. We have created a tragic parody of the vision we were supposed to implement.
One day we will all face our reckoning. Those who drove men, women and children from the path will be asked about what they did. The victims will ask for their rights. The pretense of piety will collapse.
The self-appointed spokesmen of the divine, the gatekeepers of orthodoxy, the wardens of morality: yes, even they will be asked about the rights they trampled, the lives they tore apart, the hearts they crushed, the light of faith their demands extinguished.
All of us will be asked. How will we prepare?
In 2008, I briefly published a book entitled, To Honour God. If I were to republish it now with the beliefs and ideas I have today, many of my friends would disown me, while the gatekeepers of orthodoxy would line up to accuse me of heresy. In some countries that could be a death sentence. But if we are to honour God, and live lives in servitude to Him, we may just have to swim against the tide. ‘Between my soul and God, stand my heart and my deeds,’ went that constant refrain of mine, ‘Nothing else stands between us.’ A reminder for these times.
If we were able to look at our own team with introspection equal to our criticism of the other side, we would recoil in humility.
Most of us are only willing to go so far: to ask questions of others, but not of ourselves; to delve into the histories of others, but not our own; to interrogate the impact of politics on another’s path, but not its impact on ours.
Most of us can recount in intimate detail the faults of our enemies. But to look back at the wrongs of our side: no, we will turn away. We won’t open that box. Loyalty to the community, the tribe, the school, the sect, the scholar, the nation, the family: all of these take precedent over truth and justice.
In place of introspection, we subscribe to tradition: to what has been passed down to us. We will not ask if that tradition has been embellished along the way; if bitter conflict took anything away from it; if in the forging of empires and dynasties, folk legends took hold; if in the face of military onslaught, great narratives of identity replaced individual piety.
To ask questions about the past can be a painful process. Most of us would decide against it, opting not to expose ourselves to such discomfort. We’re happy with our comfortable narrative: of our rightness, and of the wrongness of others.
And so on we go… incessantly repeating all that is wrong with the other—with our enemies and opposition. No introspection. A wise parable unrecalled. It’s difficult to see the faults in your own team, when you’re its biggest fan.