The challenges of our time

Our activist friends this morning are sharing Yasir Qadir’s talk at Cambridge Central Mosque, lauding his insightful observations on the clash of ideas taking place in western civilisation. Actually, I was already aware of the talk, for I had seen it appear in my YouTube subscriptions at the weekend, but I passed over it, for I knew it would only wind me up. In that respect, it did not disappoint.

His speech commences with excessive praise of the host. Anyone with any grounding in adab would know that this is a huge faux pas, grating with both the listener and the recipient in equal measure. I suggest the good man sweeps up some dust from his wood burner into a plastic bag, to be carried with him at all times, to be dispatched into the face of every admirer each time their eulogies commence. As it was, he contorted his face into a mammoth frown to disown the guest’s great praise. Alhamdulilah.

What follows: a rather boring and rambling speech, best listened to at double speed (settings > playback speed > x2). The only profound insight comes in at around the eighteen minute mark: that the new religion of man is his narcissism. However, as the verse he quotes makes clear (Quran 45:23), this is not a new religion at all. It has been a part of the human psyche for time immemorial. Hence the prescription given in surah Ash-Shams, fourteen hundred years ago. This new religion afflicts all of us. Muslim and non-Muslim. East and west. Scholar and commoner. Rich and poor. 

All the rest… the clash of civilisations, left vs. right, breakdown of values, the promise and harm of technology, disunity… even conceited fools like me stuffed our undergraduate theses with these ideas in the 1990s. Impressive, possibly, at the age of twenty, though only to ourselves. Our supervisors would have annotated those notions with red ink even then, in the hope of prompting some introspection.

So obsessed is he with the unspoken immorality which he alludes to throughout that he sees the American centre right aligned to the morality of Islam, and the American radical left as inimical to it. Who dares speak of the nuance inherent in the Middle Way? Does Christian Socialism have nothing to teach us? What of the founding of the British national health service (NHS), in which access to healthcare was made available to all, based on clinical need, not the ability of the individual to pay? Are these not ideas to which our faith would align itself?

What of questions of social justice? Of safeguarding the vulnerable? What of investing in research? What of protecting the rights of those often trampled on? What of the distribution of wealth? What of removing harm, of striving for peace, of campaigning against warfare. What of the gross inequalities in access to opportunities, healthcare, social mobility?

Are the impoverished men and women living in multi-generational households in the cramped and inadequate terraces of our northern cities truly worried about the unspoken immoralities alluded to throughout, or are they concerned with discrimination, precarious employment, low wages, limited life opportunities, reliance on food banks and the goodwill of others, curtailed life expectancy, domestic violence, addiction, alcoholism? What does a broad reading of the Middle Way have to offer men, women and children caught up in this world?

Offer us a vision we can grasp hold of, o learned one. Set out for us a vision to nourish our souls and lead us to a better way of being. Come down from your ivory tower to meet the Muslims where they are, not in pious soundbites, but in their true reality.

Our morality is not just found in condemning, but also in building. In building hospitals, schools, roads. In investing in healthcare, education, research. In providing social welfare, in safeguarding the vulnerable. The so-called culture wars are simply a device invented by the rich to distract from the fact that the largest economies on earth cannot deliver basic necessities to their people. These are the true challenges of our times.

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