Virtuous Reality

Who sits this side of the computer terminal, tapping out words that shoot out across the web? Nobody knows.

Nobody knows if the author is a believer or a doubter, the pious or a sinner, the learned or the ignorant, a guide, the guided, the misguided or a misguider. Nobody knows if the author is who she says she is, if she is a ghost-writer, a fantasist or an imposter. Nobody knows if what he says is honest and true, or if with his typing fingers he proclaims one thing, whilst his heart witnesses to another.

Of course only God and ourselves know what our hearts contain, but in this world of decapitated voices we are more easily led astray. A thousand admirers praised an author for their vast faith, sincerity and piety, whilst the applauded one’s faith withered away, witnessed only by God, close companions and their computer’s pale night-time glow. But how, but why, but please, oh no!

Such pain for one nobody ever even knew, except through their own words, selected and refined for public consumption. Who sits before the whirring box, its disk drives chattering, its fan blowing hard, its display imprinting the retinas with those small white squares that return whenever he looks back at his beloved? Nobody knows, except He who knows what our hearts contain.

May our Lord grant us virtuous non-virtual companions who guide by their actions and character, not merely by the words of their tongues or typing fingers, who emit that great light of faith that alone can carry us home.

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Hold fast to the rope of Allah

Hold fast to the rope of Allah and never take your faith for granted. These are not empty words.

I have passed through those phases of great despair — despair at my own propensity to overwhelm myself with the same sins over and over — when a voice from within whispers, “There is no hope for you.”

God is Most Merciful insists optimism in one ear. But my sins are too many, too consistent, too repetitive, too foolish, too inexcusable… too much to bear. The pessimistic soul feels them weighing on him too heavily. It is not long before he is contemplating abandoning his soul to destruction, not because he disbelieves in God, but because he disbelieves in himself.

This blog has documented many such troughs in my own life, but I am not alone. A friend’s words were once littered with sentiments such as these, though few noticed at the time, attributing them to modesty or humility instead. “Be who I am not,” they once said, telling us how far we had misjudged them: “From these depths, I see what goodness is, and this is why I want you to aspire to it.

These were not the words of one who had lost their faith in God, but of one who had lost faith in their own capacity to rise above whatever dragged them down. They saw what faith could do for you, but they had already given up on their own self. Such is the nature of despair.

But who despairs of God’s mercy except one who has gone astray? This verse reverberates in my mind each time I descend into that heavy gloom under the weight of my sins. There remains an intense fear that we take His forgiveness for granted, and that He might withdraw it from us. The fear remains that those sins will come back to haunt us, but hope must prevail for it is the antidote to despair. The ultimate outcome of despair is simply giving up: my sins are too many, too vast, too great, so why bother?

The answer, I have found over recent months, is to make gradual steps towards rectifying one’s condition. For a decade I was unable to read the Qur’an in Arabic, for I told myself that the task of learning it was beyond me, but these past few months I have begun to make progress. For five years my Qur’an teacher instructed us to make a regular habit of reading the Qur’an, but only in the past few months have we begun starting the day with a portion of Ya-Sin and ending it with Surat al-Mulk.

My shortcomings outweigh my progress for sure — and I am not immune to continuing to fail — but it is necessary to put in place an antidote to despair. It is necessary to take small steps now, in order to make greater strides in the future, if the Most Merciful wills. “Certainly,” says our Lord in a Hadith Qudsi reported by al-Tabarani, “I run the affairs of My servants by My knowledge of what is in their hearts.”

In these past few months when our little universe has changed immensely, when great blessings have descended upon us unexpectedly, I have come to appreciate the rope of Allah all the more. In God is the remedy to all of our affairs.

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Fitna

Two or three years ago in one very insignificant corner of the internet, a huge argument broke out between proponents of vaguely different interpretations of Islam, between brothers if you will. To the casual observer, such as myself peering in, it seemed like a skirmish on the border. But its effect on others was catastrophic.

Some of our fellow Muslims, many of them converts to the deen, had already lived through the Salafi inquisitions of the late 1990s that had demanded that the enthusiastic new faithful declare exactly which type of Salafi they were. Some Muslims, distraught by the collapse of the structures that had sustained their nascent faith, found their iman shattered and left the fold soon thereafter. Others held on, trusting in the guidance of Allah, recalling that they became Muslim for the sake of God, not for the sake of people, insisting that the schism would not shake them.

For some, salvation came in the form of what would later be called Traditional Islam. Early websites introduced them to material that had largely been unavailable in the English language until then and a new way forward emerged. Their old enthusiasm for their faith returned as they grasped hold of isnads and ijazahs connecting them back to the Prophet, peace be upon him. The sunnah sprang back to life in their lives, revealed in their conduct and words, and in their appeal to the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, whenever they perceived shortcomings in themselves and those around them.

For a while it seemed that they had found themselves in the midst of a different kind of community, one that would not succumb to the very human failings they had witnessed previously. This community was, it was thought, less self-righteous, gentler, more grounded in the humility that faith promotes.

All of sudden, however, that illusion was blasted to pieces. In the tempest of an argument that came from nowhere, the very voices that had called people to faith now raged with a sectarian intolerance that stunned those who had benefitted from them in the past. It was apparent to me as an outside observer—still just a Muslim lacking investment in any particular group—that many of the participants were oblivious to the impact of their involvement in the new schism. They certainly did not see how their standing fell in the eyes of people who had once respected them immensely, and what that loss of guidance meant for them.

Some, distraught by the apparent disintegration of a firm foundation beneath them, found their iman teetering on the brink and left the fold soon thereafter. Others held on, trusting in the guidance of Allah, recalling that they became Muslim for the sake of God, not for the sake of people, insisting that the schism would not shake them. But just as this was not the first, it would also not be the last, and the aftershocks and convulsions went on, buffeting believers to and fro over the weeks and months that followed.

For some who had invested heavily in their faith, it was a calamity amongst calamities that severely tested them. Alas, for some it was the catalyst for a certainty that none of us would wish for now: that certainty in nothingness, that those of us who have been atheist have had the misfortune to experience in full. It was, if you like, The End.

Yet all of us are tested by degrees. Some of us by the call of our own nafs or childlessness. Some by divorce and in bringing up severely disabled children alone. Some by the destruction of their homeland and being forced to live as a refugee until the end. Some by a great flood, or by the pollution of their livelihood. Some by the death of a loved-one to cancer. Some by their own terminal illness. Some by slaughter and oppression. Some by wealth, and ease, and love and light and happiness. And some by the fitnas that return time after time.

My Qur’an teacher taught his class one day that the word fitna is of the Arabic root alfatn. In days of old there were people who would mix lesser metals with gold for personal gain, but their deception could be detected by tossing coins into the flames of a fire. The process of separating true gold from false in this way is know as alfatn. It is the law of God, our teacher taught us, to put people through tribulation to separate those made from gold from the rest:

2. Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?

3. But We have certainly tried those before them, and God will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.

4. Or do those who do evil deeds think they can outrun Us? Evil is what they judge.

5. Whoever should hope for the meeting with God—indeed, the term decreed by God is coming. And He is the Hearing, the Knowing.

6. And whoever strives only strives for the benefit of himself. Indeed, God is Free from need of the worlds.

7. And those who believe and do righteous deeds—We will surely remove from them their misdeeds and will surely reward them according to the best of what they used to do.

8. And We have enjoined upon man goodness to parents. But if they endeavour to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do.

9. And those who believe and do righteous deeds—We will surely admit them into Paradise among the righteous. {Surah al-Ankabut}

Nothing that happens in our lives occurs without the will of God. And it has been said that those most loved by God are often tested to ever greater degrees, raising their standing before their Lord beyond our wildest dreams. At times, when the darkest and most difficult moments descend, we may stumble and err, for of course we are but human. But our Lord is known as the Most Merciful, the Compassionate, and He leaves the door to repentance open for us repeatedly.

They said: “We give thee glad tidings in truth: be not then in despair!” He said: “And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord, but such as go astray?”  {Qur’an 15.55}

The door is open for as long as he prolongs our lives.

O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it. {Hadith Qudsi}

Here I am reminded of that old parable of the lost sheep from my childhood. Indeed of the parable of the prodigal son. May God keep us all on the straight path and raise us in a good state on the Day of Judgement. And may He guide those who have lost faith back to His Way, raising them stronger than before.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, was once asked, ‘What actions are most excellent?’ He replied, ‘To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful and to remove the sufferings of the injured.’

He, peace be upon him, also said, ‘Give glad tidings and do not repel the people. Make things easy for the people and do not make it difficult for them and make them calm with glad tidings and do not repulse them.’

Are any more words required?

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