I suppose I should remind myself not to confuse Islam online with faith itself. The rise of internet demagogues, with their mass followings growing a thousand week by week, is undoubtedly presenting a skewed portrait of the religious realm. Here, the environment is toxic, capable of driving many away if they take it too seriously. Perhaps that is why I am becoming a hermit, cutting myself off from the virtual ummah. If only I could recalibrate my compass, to rediscover like-minded travellers on the path, who might inject some sanity into our affairs. Until then, I must retreat.
“Why do the Men of God and the Men of Knowledge not forbid them from saying what is sinful and devouring what is unlawful? Evil indeed is what they have been working!” — Qur’an 5:63
She recites words from the Qur’an: “…and do not conceal testimony, for whoever conceals it — his heart is indeed sinful, and God is Knowing of what you do.”
She recalls another verse: “O you who have believed, stand firmly for justice, witnesses for God, even if against yourselves or parents and relatives, whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not own inclinations, lest you not be just. And if you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then indeed God is ever, with what you do, acquainted.”
She recalls: “O you who have believed, persistently stand firm for God, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear God; indeed, God is acquainted with what you do.”
And she reminds us that the servants of the Lord of Mercy are “those who do not testify to falsehood, and when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity.”
But hearing all of this, her brother in faith immediately responds: “Let him without sin cast the first stone!”
Thus do words first found in Codex Bezae’s rendering of the Gospel of John, dated to the 5th century, supersede the words of the Qur’an for those who claim to speak for the Muslims today.
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
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”
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?
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”
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.
When I look back on my life, I see that I have spent most of it in sin. But for the mercy of my Lord, my balance stands against me. However will I turn things around, I often ask myself, so late in the day with so many evil deeds weighing down so heavily on one side of my scales? Yes, it is a frequent cause of despair. True, Ibrahim said: “And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord except for those astray?” (Qur’an 15:56) — but for one oft-repeating in the same sins, over and over as the years pass by, it is difficult not to lose hope, seeing the ruin I have built for myself. So many times have I stood at these crossroads, resolving to turn my life around and reform, but alas, alas, here I am once more, with all the same regrets and remorse, as if nothing ever changed. What I would give to be faithful and pure.
Yes, I believe we could be political prisoners: prisoners to the politics of community, so often browbeaten into an unthinking stupor through loyalty to a common cause, shackled by that ever-present fear: of the imminent accusations of heresy and disbelief reserved for anybody who might step out of line and think for themselves. Continue reading “Political prisoner”