Dear Younger Self,
I am writing to you from the future. In a couple of years I will be 40; you have just passed 20. The year is 2015 and while it only vaguely resembles to world of 1989’s Back to the Future II, it is shaping up to mirror the dystopian nightmares of other works of contemporary fiction: ours is an advanced technological society, supported by wars without end overseas.
The Internet, which you have recently discovered, has grown exponentially and has had a vast impact on our lives, both for good and bad. That brick of a mobile phone in your pocket has evolved into a handheld computer, vastly more powerful than that huge beige machine on your desk. Your 100MB Zip disks are long obsolete; today we can store 128GB of data on a slither of plastic smaller than your fingernails. As for your dreams: instead of working in International Development, you work in a new-fangled field called Web Development. I’m not sure how that happened, but I blame you!
But enough of the whistle-stop tour of the era to come. I write to you with heartfelt advice, borne of years of reflection and inner contemplation. You have recently rekindled your belief in God, following a dim period of atheism and agnosticism, and have set out upon a new path of faith. Felicitations! Welcome aboard the caravan!
It is early days for you. Over a decade and a half later, it is still early days. You will learn as you get older that the urgency of youth is an apparition. The universe as we know it was forged in vast columns of smoke nearly 14 billion years ago. The earth on which we walk was formed 10 billion years after that. Two hundred million years ago, for 135 million years, dinosaurs roamed super continents, yet to drift apart. Our predecessors were carving tools and creating jewellery 44,000 years ago. Six thousand years ago, the Sumerians invented writing, irrigation, sailing boats and the wheel.
There is no reason to hurry! Slow down and be patient. There is no need to run before you can walk; no need to shout before you can talk. Turn away from those who demand action from you. You may be surprised to learn that some of those who now harangue you about the obligation of restoring the Khilafah are today rabidly opposed to any form of faith-based governance. You will soon see the wisdom of your confidants who petition you to steer clear of rabble-rousing preachers: the agent-provocateurs will be unmasked, the student activists will about-turn and the most venomous will soon find themselves on trial in courts of law (though, alas, others will take their place).
You have reached today’s destination with an open-mind. Remain that way. Be prepared to ask difficult questions and to challenge accepted wisdom. Know that many of those you think may know do not know at all. Know that many of your companions are as new to the road as you are and have no answers for your questions. Know that your questions may take years to be resolved. So be patient.
Do not be satisfied with the orthodoxy of the crowd. Do not settle for simplistic explanations, absolutes and black and white representations of the world. Be wary of a fundamentalism that refuses to acknowledge history. Beware of traditionalism which does not question itself. Recall that you retraced the religion of Jesus, peace be upon him, by stripping back the layers of dogma that obscured it. So too must you retrace the religion of Mohammed, peace be upon him. Do not be perpetually naïve, viewing your beliefs as outside of history, politics and culture.
Know that there has been cultural and political influence on our understanding of our religion. Know that in our tradition, the mistakes of people have been covered up and obscured. Contrary to the Qur’an and the teachings of our Prophet, peace be upon him, we have developed a culture of concealment: we are supposed not to look into issues that require redress. Our history – like any other – is complex.
Be humble. Do not concern yourself with the fate of others: work on yourself. Do not take it upon yourself to enlighten others: enlighten yourself first. Continue to read and think and ponder: do not suspend your intellect, believing yourself to have arrived at your destination. We are yet to arrive: we are on an onward a journey.
Be kind to those around you. Speak the truth, even against yourself. Be content to be on the periphery and insignificant, for it brings great freedom. Consider your upbringing a treasury: you will recognise the Pharisees when you encounter them; Parables will come to life; Semitic wisdom will speak to you. Be as a stranger in the world and as a traveller passing through. Know that whatever knowledge you have is a gift from God.
Be eternally conscious that life is sacred and that killing is an enormity. Over the years to come you will witness contemptible slaughter and bloodshed, with ever increasing ferocity and frequency. Know that all of this has been foretold and condemned by the Prophet, peace be upon him. Do not respond to the call of those calling to insanity. Turn away.
Free yourself from all that shackles you. If you are free from the world, your wealth and whatever beguiles you, realise that you will be truly free. All you need is enough food, drink and sleep to sustain you. The free person is the one who is not a slave to any person or creation; whether wealth is given or taken away from him, he remains stable. So be content with your status in life: do not be upset because you are held in contempt; do not be depressed about your place in the world. Be eternally grateful for the gifts bestowed on you.
My dear younger self, together we have made many mistakes over the years. Trust in God, that He is as He says He is: the All Forgiving, Compassionate, Most Merciful. Understand that while you may fall in the estimation of other men with each atrocity that occurs in the name of your faith, God judges each of us individually, according to our capabilities. So live a good life, whatever people may say. Be kind, whether or not others are kind. Do not measure yourself against others – good or bad – but against the measure set by your Lord.
Be true to yourself. Believe in yourself. And place your Trust in God.
Your Older Self