The illusive critical mass

Last weekend I met an elder-statesman of the convert community, a respected English gentleman who has been Muslim for over forty years — for more years than I have walked on the earth, in fact. He talked about his experience in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when English converts were small in number, and few and far between: eccentric aberrations in the space-time continuation of the Muslim community. Contrasting then and now, he recited Surah An Nasr from the Qur’an:

“When God’s help comes and He opens up your way, and you see people embracing God’s faith in crowds, celebrate the praise of your Lord and ask His forgiveness: He is always ready to accept repentance.” — Qur’an 110

Continue reading “The illusive critical mass”

Is it good to write?

Is it good to write? I don’t know. Every year come these blues that petition me: disappear, withdraw and delete these posts for good. All the world has an opinion and each of us thinks ours matter, and are worthy to be expressed, and are important, and need to be uttered in public, for others to read and reflect on. But are they really? Is it rather nothing but delusion? In the popular preaching of religion, we are continually taught: silence is better for you: speak the truth, or stay silent. And: much speaking causes the heart to whither away and die. Yet I do the opposite, not in speech — for I remain as incoherent as ever in the spoken word — but in all that my typing fingers hammer out on these keyboards. All of this, which seems so urgent and necessary one moment, which becomes a source of immense regret in the next. If I ceased to write, would it matter? Would the world be any worse for wear? Of course not, for words depart as quickly as they were imagined, fluttering across the mind of the reader only for a moment, soon to be forgotten. In writing, do I truly only counsel myself? And if so, why does it have to be public? Why not just pour sentiments into a book never to be read by others? These are the thoughts that occupy me these days. “Is it really good to write?” I ask myself every night.

Exploiting imagery

Oh how we love to exploit imagery, to forge just the right associations in the minds of our audience. Every itinerant scholar in the making knows that to be taken seriously, their library of gold embossed volumes must feature as the backdrop to their latest YouTube video. Every rising star of social media knows who to be photographed with, and where and when. Place a politician before a library of classical works and the connotation is clear: here is a pious man, a scholar, embodying the religion of God. Continue reading “Exploiting imagery”

Greatness

We must stop talking about men as if their greatness comes from themselves, as if they are unique in the annals of history. We worship men for articulating ideas commonly held, who delve into tradition and present the old as new. Where is mashallah and subhanallah as we fall about in awe, praising men for their eloquence and penetrating insight? Where is our balance and sense of perspective?

So many men we make messiahs and mahdis, projecting onto them all of our fears and hopes. We ourselves are mere sinners we mutter despondently, hopeless to ever reform and rise above what holds us back, but these men: these men are our vanguard, our armour, our buttress against the impious realm that would overwhelm and suffocate us. Hence our eulogies, praising these men far beyond their due.

Men become great by the will of their Lord. The same men He can make ascend, He can also bring low. The same men subsumed in sin can, by His mercy, repent and reform and rise to starry heights. The same men that stand before vast crowds, preaching to the multitudes, bamboozling them with poignant rhetoric, can, if the Lord of the Worlds wills, lead and be led astray.

None of us is independent, standing alone on our own two feet. None of us is great the way we think we are. Only the worship of men leads us to such conclusions. Alas, if we are not careful, one day we will stand before the One who is truly great and lament, “Our Lord, indeed we obeyed our masters and our dignitaries, and they led us astray from the right way.”

So return to the One who is greater than all things.

Activism as a cover

“We are in a moment where ‘social justice’ activism is a measure of religious devotion. The rewards for speaking activist language and associating with the disenfranchised are high, so you’ll have opportunists marketing their sacrifices, taking pictures with expressions of indignation, and typing online statuses of rage.  Capturing the popular sentiments of the moment and scoring points by regurgitating popular discourse – regardless how unislamic it is – is one of the fastest ways to gain a following.”

— Danish Qasim, Activism as a cover for abuse

Uncle Tom

Yes, I am Uncle Tom, subservient to the demands of the oppressor. This is the charge for all who do not embrace the narrative of the spokesmen of community, who define for us good Muslims and bad. Break with these modern dogmas and prepare to be cast out, castigated for holding opinions of your own. Continue reading “Uncle Tom”

Hypocrisies

It seems that we are a people who confuse religion and private interests. We are a people who perpetuate much of what is prohibited, all while presenting ourselves as faithful and sincere believers. Take the advocacy of our premier activists on behalf of one who has confessed to having several extramarital relationships, and to engaging in virtual games of seduction with numerous others, documented before judges and backed up by photographic evidence offered by his own defence. Look how our activists phrase it: it is between him and God, and no concern of ours. These men we take as guides boldly declare that the moral authority of the one who admits to all these things remains intact. Point out this divergence from the norms of tradition and even the most fervent activist will call you an extremist. What is this activism we speak of, which does nothing to reform us of the hypocrisies within?

Blinded by labels

It used to be that if a traditionalist wished to insult you, they would call you a Wahabi. Nowadays, you are more likely to be labelled a Quranist, a bizarre slight, as peculiar as the non-Muslim’s Islamist. While I am certain that there are sects and groups that refer to themselves as Quranists, Quraniyya, Quranites and all manner of derivations, those on the receiving end of this extraordinary taunt often do no such thing. Continue reading “Blinded by labels”

Morning prayer

Ya Allah, guide me back to the straight path. The path of those you have blessed, not those who incur your anger, or those who are astray.

With these words I start my day. A desperate, anguished prayer, recognising how far I have fallen. Never take your faith for granted. The act of uttering your testimony of faith does not transform you into a pure being, incapable of error after guidance. You have to strive on this path, otherwise it becomes mere ritual. Your prayers, five times a day, just brief pauses punctuating a life badly lived. I speak for myself, naturally, but I am sure I am not alone. Those of us who took our faith for granted and then raced headlong into sin, hoping for His infinite mercy.

Ya Allah, guide me back to the straight path.