The addictive grip of idleness

I have been reflecting quite a lot recently on what Christians refer to as ‘the addictive power of sin’, for I am one of those unfortunate souls that makes mistakes and repents only to repeat them again over and over. Faced with this phenomenon, I believe it is easy to appreciate how many Christians come to conclude that there is no escape from sin except through a dramatic external intervention—even if we believe they are wrong. While we would say that their solution is an illogical extreme, given that we only recognise sin in the light of what God has defined as good and bad, there is no escaping that sense of despair when we constantly replicate the same mistake throughout the years of our lives. Muslims are, of course, reminded of the words of God, that had He created a community that would not sin and err and return in repentance, He would have removed it and replaced it with one that would, for He loves to forgive. Indeed we are reminded of the famous Hadith Qudsi in which we are promised forgiveness, no matter what we have done, so long as we return in repentance:

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.

We are aware of so many words which give us hope, and yet the sense of despair is real, for recurring repentance for oft-repeated errors begins to feel hollow, shallow and half-hearted. It is true that I am not the worst of people, but my criteria for judging myself is not the standard set by the behaviour of others; my errors may well seem insignificant in a world of widespread bloodshed, but the Middle Way is not defined as the path between the shifting extremes of the day. We judge ourselves against a fixed standard. The earliest Christians would have been aware that all was not lost in the face of sin—even the parables recorded in the contemporary Gospel cannon make this clear—but today’s discourse incessantly emphasises the need for a redeeming saviour. When I look at my own response, I see ignorance at its heart. Ignorance feeds despair, for addiction is persuasive. If we convince ourselves that our addiction is incurable—as is the Christian’s theological position, even though we find that many Christians are in fact people of high moral calibre who are clearly not subsumed in sin—a sense of hopelessness is really only a natural response. In my case ignorance affects me in many ways, which at first seem quite distinct, but which are in fact all interrelated. An ignorant response to mistakes is tied to the ignorance which leads to them in the first place.

All of this carries me back towards my thoughts during my recent stay in the Black Sea, which I have wanted to write about since my return, but have been unable to articulate (I still can’t as I would like to). People in that forested valley not far from the border with Georgia generally lead happy, contented lives and are self-sufficient in many ways, but I was still struck by the hardship of many of their lives. We met widows on the sides of those valleys, and children who had lost their fathers, mothers who lost their sons. I watched as old men busied themselves chopping logs for the stove and women collected hay for their cows, each preparing for the cold winter that will draw down on them in the next few months. I witnessed much more than this, and I reflected on it in light of my own life and the way I live it. My life has always been characterised by remarkable ease—I have never experienced real hardship—and yet what can be said of the way I live it? I am lazy and often feeble, capable of telling myself that I am doing okay when I achieve nothing in weeks and weeks. What my experience in the Black Sea taught me—and this thought kept recurring in my mind throughout our stay—was that our Lord has far higher expectations of us than I have ever acknowledged, that He requires a higher standard. The great hardship I witnessed convinced me that my laziness and feebleness in the face of so much ease could not possibly be acceptable to our Creator.

So here I stand taking stock of my life, and truthfulness—not humility—confesses that there is not a lot to be proud of. I may well deny that need for a redeeming saviour, but I remain tarnished by the legacy of that tradition, for instead of striving against my laziness, my weakness, my emotional addictions, I have allowed myself to succumb to them. Jesus was sent to sinners not saints, Christians often remind us, but we recognise that this was one of the roles of our noble Prophet too: the point is that they were sent to sinners so that they might reform themselves and become the best of people. I reflected on those matters during my stay in a simpler setting in Ramadan, but what have I achieved since my return? Nothing to be proud of once more. ‘To good and evil equal bent, both a devil and a saint.’

I recognise that laziness is one of my greatest diseases, but as I said to my friend last night, most of the time I’m too lazy to do anything about it. In a world of AA for alcoholics and smoking cessation counselling for Smokers, isn’t ‘the addictive power of sin’ a rather lame excuse for idleness?

It is not Islamophobia

Though I do not dispute that some Muslims face discrimination, that Islam is derided (as Christianity is) and damned, that some Muslims are attacked for their beliefs, I have never liked the term “Islamophobia” for it is being used in Britain today as a mechanism of denial, a means of avoiding taking ourselves to account.

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To honour a solemn oath

You may have forgotten that the day God created our souls He took a solemn oath from us. Have a billion years passed since then? Perhaps; perhaps more. But do we abandon our promises just because time has passed us by? Or because we have forgotten them? I wish I could say I was perfect, that I am a pious believer whose heart is clean and strong. I wish I could. But instead the recurring realisation day and night, even if I do not act upon it, is that I must repent. I have so much for which I must repent, and its time is drawing near.

“Repent and ask your Lord’s forgiveness before you leave this world. Before the world occupies all your time, hurry to do deeds to save yourself.” {Ibn Maja}

We have been here before, but that’s life, isn’t it? Those recurring cycles and phases. Now is the time. And yes I will repeat these words in the future, no doubt. But now is the time. And if I return, then now will be the time again. So we repent over and over, renewing our faith week after week, driving onwards towards the inevitable event. That day when our bodies will not breathe another breath and our souls will hang there waiting – still alive, but unable to put forth any more deeds. Perhaps we will hang there in our graves for another billion years as our bodies become dust, but a day will come. How did we honour that solemn oath of ours back millenia ago?

“Repent and ask your Lord’s forgiveness before you leave this world. Before the world occupies all your time, hurry to do deeds to save yourself.”

Now is the time, and tomorrow will be the time, and a month from now will be the time. Every moment is now.

Sustenance

This year has been a bad year for us in the garden. Autumn was late last year, the leaves not falling from the trees until November and so winter left us late and spring did not even seem to happen. The April showers visited us in May and now we have this scorching sun. Tomorrow the chill may return – Allah knows best. In the garden, the vegetables are not doing well. The slugs and snails have eaten the lettuce already, while the tomatoes, beans and corn just don’t seem to grow, their leaves going yellow and brown instead. There is a reminder in this for us. We thank Allah that we are not people dependent on our own land; we thank Him that the markets are still stocked with fresh vegatables and that we have supermarkets and shops to choose from. Working for a salary, we exchange our coins for dinner. So think of those who live upon their land. Those whose cattle and crops are their wealth. Think of them and be thankful to Allah for his many blessings.

And now think of our folk, our brethren and fellow humans in the Horn of Africa, in the Sahel, in Sudan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Think of those folk who depend on the land and whose crops have failed this year. For me it is not the end that the beans will not flower – we will just visit the market instead – but for others it is a matter of life and death. So be thankful for what you have and remember and pray for those who are without.

From Allah we come and to Him we return. Say alhamdulilah for Allah has showered His blessings upon us, even if we do not comprehend.

Divine Comedy

If ever we needed evidence that we have no control over our own lives, it is in my garden. Last year my wife and I spent a lot of effort working on our vegetable patch, digging it over and working in the manure, all to little avail. It did not get enough light, we concluded, and so this year with advice from my brother and sister we decided to turn it into lawn, seeding it with grass while dispersing the vegetables amidst the flowers in our sunnier beds. The rather wet conditions this summer have been perfect for establishing that lawn. My beloved did most of the work preparing the ground and making it level. A few days before she spread the seed I took it upon myself to move the compost heap, emptying its contents onto that flat ground temporarily as I relocated the bin. This may have something to do with what happened next. My wife scattered the seeds during the sunny spell we had a few weeks ago and with daily watering the grass began to sprout. And then came the rain. Over the past week the grass has really started to grow quickly and strongly, and almost the whole patch is now green. But a trip down the garden two days ago revealed a very funny sight. All over that fertile ground, amidst the shoots of grass, are a hundred little tomato plants, lettuces, cucumbers, even melons. Seeds from the rotted fruit and veg in the compost heap? Last year’s seeds revived? A scattering blown by the wind? God knows best. But an autonomous vegetable patch in our lawn – yes. However we look at it, our lives remain in our Creator’s hands. We may convince ourselves that we have everything under control, but the truth is quite distinct. Oh for the parables of our lives.

Act 1883

As Robert Cottage from Colne, Lancashire, finally goes on trial at Manchester Crown Court, pleading guilty to possession of explosives, Home Secretary John Reid is set to address Christian children about looking for the tell-tale signs of extremism in their parents.

Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, came under fire last night for his call to ban Orthodontist Ghettos last month after retired dentist, David Jackson of Nelson, Lancashire, denied both charges* under the Explosive Substances Act.

Both men have been charged under the Explosive Substances Act 1883, which was designed particularly for white people who cannot be charged under recent “anti-terror” legislation because it would be unsightly.

Mr Cottage denies conspiracy to cause an explosion. Alistair Webster QC, defending, said Mr Cottage was a former BNP candidate and had been the subject of threats. Mr Cottage accepted the possession charge on the basis that the explosives were designed to deter attacks on his property, Mr Webster said. When police raided his house on 28 September 2006 they discovered 21 types of chemicals which, when combined, could form explosives. Ball bearings – which the prosecution claim could be used as shrapnel for explosive devices – were also found, along with four air pistols.

In a statement released this morning, the Community Cohesion Taskforce says it will be taking a long hard look at extremism amongst middle-aged Englishmen. The Minister in Charge said that community leaders must do more to combat the tide of radicalisation rising in our midst.

But it also sounded a note of caution in dealing with disaffected members of the largely peace-loving British population. “This is a sensitive issue,” said a spokesman, “It is not appropriate that we try to make political capital out of the case of two men found in possession of rocket launchers, a nuclear biological suit, extremist literature, a master plan and a large haul of bomb-making chemicals. We need to look at the underlying causes which are leading old English men towards extremism.’

Pressed on the question on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Tony Blair told John Humphries, ‘Those who don’t like our way our life, who don’t like our values, whose ideology is hate. They can just sod off.’

The trial continues today.

* Pardon the pun.

The return of the ragged Hajji

21 December 2006: It is our forth day in Medina in the warming heat of Arabia according to our own grand master plan. Shortly we will depart for Mecca and the wondrous House. Planned months in advance and carefully financed—ihram sourced a month before departure, suitcases packed two weeks before—but though we plot and plan, Allah is always the best of planners. Here I sit in my own study, warming myself against the icy air beside the radiator, the fog outside covering the hill across the valley, the house across the street obscured by this hanging haze.

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Undercover Wudu Area

Tonight on Dispatches – Muslim fundamentalists claim that cleanliness is next to Godliness, but our under cover investigation reveals an atmosphere of whiffiness spreading through Britain

Mullah Nasrideen: We Muslims have lost the mop

Abu Imran: Jif is bid’a

Sheikh Ahmed: If the toilet doesn’t flush, we throw in the towel

Part One

A Dispatches investigation has uncovered the stinkiest toilets in England, spreading from the basement of mosques run by major UK organisations which claim to be dedicated to the message of Islam, to cleanliness, good manners and civilisation.

Caption: Undercover filming

Our reporter went undercover last summer, joining thousands of worshippers. He’s staying anonymous. After his foot got trapped in the sink. The enamel had turned brown and smelt like chicken and rice.

Caption: 9 August 2006

Our undercover reporter discovered this toilet hasn’t been cleaned in three years. He asks the cleaner why?

Abu Imran: Why should I clean it? It has its own cistern. It automatically cleans itself when you flush. Brown is the new black anyway.

The imam didn’t want our reporter talking to the cleaner for long.

Mullah Nasrideen: This is exactly why we can’t afford toilet cleaning fluid. The man’s always talking. If he would just stop talking we might be able to afford some soap.

Shots of manual of Fiqh

This book contains a whole chapter on ritual purification. But our reporter filmed there in a mosque for over four months, and found that nobody cleaned the toilets once.

Reconstruction using actor
Reconstruction using actor

Fatima Khan investigates smelly toilets. She keeps her face hidden in interviews because of the dangers of her work; plungers and squat toilets are an explosive combination.

Fatima Khan: Muslims believe that cleanliness is half of the religion and that it’s next to Godliness, but nowadays the ummah is engaged in important debates about the kuffar, so we have to make compromises.

Not cleaning the toilet is opposed to the traditional beliefs of classical Islam, according to leading Muslim academic Dr Ali.

Dr Ali: We tell non-Muslims that our way of life is best, but they can smell that the stench coming from our bathrooms. We don’t understand the irony when we call them dirty kuffar.

Our undercover reporter discovered just how far the culture of leaving the toilets to clean themselves goes in mosques up and down the country when he dropped his hidden camera down the trap by accident. Find out what he discovered in Part Two.

Disclaimer: This is satire. It did not really happen, although, yes, it may sound familiar.

Hajj Bandits

In days of old the tribulations faced by the pilgrim on his journey to Mecca included the assault of ravaging bandits determined to make quick profits by pillaging the winding desert caravans. In our own age, say some, the road to Mecca is easy, a comfortable voyage by jetliner to comfortable five-star accommodation. That may be so for some, but others of us unlucky enough to encounter the twenty-first century bandits know that all of us are tested by degrees according to our intention and will.

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