Polemicists for life

My first encounter with the polemicists of Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner occurred in the basement cafeteria at All Souls, Langham Place, just across the road from Broadcasting House on London’s Regent Street. I think it was Sunday 3 August, 1997. In the company of my maternal grandmother and brother, we had just listened to John Stott preach the second of his series of sermons on the four faces of Christ, as purportedly expounded in each of the four gospels. This one was entitled, The Suffering Servant.

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Callers

Are the callers really calling people to faith? It doesn’t look like it to me. Rather, they are chasing them away, with their bullying cries and denunciation. Who would want to jump aboard this ship, knowing that they would soon be made to walk the plank and be thrown into the sea? Who is there who will call the callers? Who will call back to a noble way?

Brand faith

The Muslim faithful of old used to shun the limelight and, if they feared they were becoming famous, would abandon their circles altogether, to wander off in search of obscurity.

That is why I am sceptical of our modern soothsayers’ pursuit of wide acclaim and their focus on building their brand. It does not seem to me to be the prophetic way, wherein the wisest and best tirelessly preached the oneness of God, but were mostly rejected even by their own people.

The One calls us away from ourselves and back to Him. Modern devotees to each acclaimed sheikh-ul-Islam call us instead to their beloved master, showering them with praise far beyond their due, replacing servitude to the Creator with devotion to mere mortals.

Worse still than the fanatic groupies: the egotistical sheikh himself, showering himself in applause. The grand titles he bestows on himself. The followers, likes and shares he hoards like jewels and pearls, as he manicures his brand. The constant refrain: “I am, I am, I am” and “I did, I did, I did.”

The One calls us back. We have seen through the antics of the modern gurus, brought to life through popularity contests, exaggerated résumés, symposiums, partisan media, stupendous followings, manufactured controversies, fictitious supporters, artful alliances and preposterous posing before crowds.

The One calls us back to Him. So return.

Clowns

Will nobody say something to the scholars, preachers and callers of YouTube, demanding that they abandon their risible antics? Here one clown, preaching his own peculiar wisdom, and here another firing back with a refutation. Here a pair of clowns, jumping up and down with glee. Here another clown reproaching them. So many clowns, expertly clowning, except it is not funny. The circus has come to town, and they perform before all the world, self-absorbed in their own buffoonery, entirely oblivious to the impact on all who witness this churlish spectacle.

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The fraud of fools

If your spiritual companions demand that you oppress others, I’d dare surmise that they are not spiritual at all. If those professing to have reached a high station arrogate to themselves permission to do what has been clearly prohibited, I would dare surmise that they have reached no such station at all. Don’t abdicate personal responsibility to those who abrogate the path they claim to excel in. Don’t be taken in by the fraud of fools. Use your intellect, as you are commanded to by the Lord of all the worlds. Worship your Lord alone. Be loyal to the truth alone.

To be honest

To be truthful: perhaps the greatest test of all. So many an activist of many a movement have proved themselves outright liars. I find it strange that our movements do not demand piety of their members. There is no appeal to the maxims of the Quran… “except those who do righteous deeds.”

Instead, covering in the name of solidarity. In place of “be truthful” we have “whatever it takes”. Thus does the apparently rigorous scholar rehabilitate those that do everything censured by their Book, so long as they remain an ally. Contrary the Book, we have allowed lying for the cause. Thus, I fear we will be branded. Liars.

May the Most Merciful make us people of truth, purify our hearts, correct our intentions, straighten our ways, forgive us our mistakes, cleanse our nafs and make us truthful, always, in everything we do, in every instant, and stir our conscience to seek truth, pursue truth and demand truth. O Allah, make us truthful.

Connection

Get back to the mosques, our friends petition us. Lets reconnect with the masjid, they say.

But masjid literally means the place you do prostration, and our connection in that place is with Allah. The Lord of the universe and all the worlds is not contained within four walls.

Personally, I do not understand why places of worship are exempt from the more rigorous rules to prevent the virus spreading. I cannot meet careful friends indoors for another 40 days, but I can stand with a crowd of strangers five times a day, amongst them men I know have been ignoring all restrictions since day one.

British Muslims and Jews seem to have experienced a higher mortality rate through the pandemic than the wider population. There are all manner of socio-economic factors to account for that disparity.

Those who live in areas of high deprivation, who have no choice but to work despite sickness or fatigue, lack the choices of the well-to-do. Others, though, exercise their choice to do whatever they please. The same men who ignored all restrictions now call us back.

I choose to exercise a counter choice: caution, hoping to be rid of this affliction, if the Most Merciful wills. Ask me again after Ramadan. Until then, let us reconnect with our creator instead.

Spheres of influence

Truly, it is a blessing to be a nobody, to have no influence on the would around you. It is a blessing to live in a little house, to live within your means. Truly, it is a blessing to be responsible for your family alone, and move in small circles, and wander on unknown.

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Personal opinion

A website stuffed to the gills with personal opinions on Islam, society and the state of the Muslims, now cautions us: “Do not speak about the meaning of the Qur’an based on your personal opinion.”

We hope in vain that their nine-hundred and fiftieth opinion piece will therefore be their last, moved now to silence themselves, recognising their sin, even if they are right. For if the Islam they opine about daily is not founded on the Quran, what else is it?

The author brings a narration from al-Tirmidhi, the chain of which the muhadith graded gharib. The Quran itself is never brought to bear.

Do they not reflect upon the Quran, or are there locks upon their hearts?

— Quran 47:34

No doubt mindful of this verse, the author does concede that it is important to reflect on its ayat. So ponder, yes, but do not form an opinion based on those reflections, and certainly do not speak or act on them.

Not helpful for the seeker who came to faith by way of the Quran. Nor one who seeks justice, by way of the Quran. Or one who walks humbly on the earth, by way of the Quran. Or one who refuses to mix truth and falsehood, by way of the Quran.

Anyway, one better than me puts it better. All I can hope for is that we will not be of those rejected on the Day the heavens will split open.

And the Messenger will say, “O my Lord, indeed my people have abandoned this Quran.”

— Quran 25:30

Surely it would be better to advise young Muslims early in their studies of Islam to invest everything in the Quran. I certainly wish I had.