Youthful despair

There’s nothing new about these insecurities. Perhaps what’s different is that the folklore of this generation – the standard narrative in novels, films, TV shows and magazines – provides a hopeless caricature of relationships, reducing them to animalistic mating rituals: man and woman meet in a bar/restaurant/post-nuclear holocaust/alien invasion, and an hour later jump into bed together.

In my time, at university, nearly 20 years ago, those same insecurities were bubbling away in every dorm. As they leafed through their copies of FHM magazine, 3 out of 5 students in every flat were in despair, wondering what was wrong with them. Mostly they’re all now happily married or in long-term relationships. They probably look back on their naive, impatient youth with a mixture of self-loathing and tragic embarrassment.

But here, in the Muslim community, we have our own set of insecurities, or uncertainties, in the simplest of human relationships, such as a greeting on the street or a conversation on a public forum. When does a lowered gaze become I’m ignoring your existence? When does a greeting of salam become a huge faux pas? I admit that after 18 years navigating the Muslim Community, I’m largely none the wiser.

To be alive again

No new resolutions for me, but a reminder for my daily living… What does it mean to believe?

“And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off evil;

Those who spend of that which God has given them in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; God loves the good;

And those who, when they do an evil thing or wrong themselves, remember God and implore forgiveness for their sins — Who forgives sins except God alone? — and will not knowingly repeat the wrong they did.

The reward of such will be forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever — a bountiful reward for workers!”

Qur’an 3:133-136

In summary, those who believe should be:

  • Charitable (generous in giving money or other help to the needy / mild or tolerant in judging others; lenient)
  • Composed (serenely self-possessed; calm)
  • Clement (inclined to be lenient or merciful)
  • Contrite (feeling regret and sorrow for one’s sins or offenses; penitent)

If we can try to act on these daily, then perhaps we too can be counted among those being referred to. The best of resolutions, inshallah.

Gateways to the soul

Our senses, notably our eyes and ears, are gateways to our hearts.

In an interview, recorded just hours before his execution in 1989, serial killer Ted Bundy, spokes of the pervasive influence exposure to extreme, violent pornography had on him. While not abdicating responsibility for his actions, he nevertheless acknowledged the power of an addictive force. It is an incredibly important observation for our times, for what is being said here applies not just to this type of extreme media, but to numerous other influences from the benign to the dangerous.

On the benign end we have shiny gadget syndrome, Technolust and obsessive devotion to a football team. Each become all-consuming because we choose to expose ourselves to images, words and sounds which reach into us.

But as to the dangerous: I have absolutely no doubt about the internal processes that occur in those who expose themselves to the gratuitous violence of warfare. The shock of a solitary photo on Facebook depicting horrific destruction in Gaza, followed by the stream of ever more extreme imagery, gradually, stage by stage, transform the viewer’s heart.

Responses are not uniform. The natural reaction of some will be to avenge for the wronged, to send aid to the oppressed or even to fight on their behalf.

But others, who expose themselves to the actions of other avengers, may be to perpetuate such horrors themselves. If you expose yourself to the actions of the supposed liberators, as they execute their prisoners and meet out punishment on those who oppose them, will a time not come in some, when a line is crossed, somewhere deep within?

This is an extreme example, but we are living in extreme times. We have witnessed once sensible, polite, kind individuals suddenly thrust upon us in the newspapers as terrible supporters of barbarity.

It is crucial that we recall the wisdom of Lower Your Gaze in a time of all-pervasive imagery.

Nobody in 1989, could have imagined the world as it is today, with such extreme imagery on tap. The days of debates about the effect of the video tape, satellite TV and the arcade game are long gone. All of that seems tame now — although it wasn’t of course. We have just lost touch with reality.

Poison chalice

The poor young visionary — once champion of social justice, investing heavily in health, social welfare and the minimum wage — drank from the poison chalice. From a brave new dawn, when things could only get better, to babbling fool, driven to madness by his own deceit. Never thirst for power, for it will consume you.

Keyboard warriors

The keyboard warriors are doing battle, clashing on all frontiers. With rage they tap ever faster on keyboards of glass and plastic, outdoing their opponents with snippets of sentiment, oblivious to the weight of their words. All is fair in love and war, they believe, unconscious of the cautious wisdom of old that sought to restrain the tongue from its visceral temper.

With unrestrained brutality, their opponents will be vanquished, indignation seething through their veins. It is a battle that must be won, right now, right there on a tiny screen, for all to see and witness. It is a battle that must be won at all costs, no expenses spared — work may suffer, a prayer might be missed, real life companions might sit neglected — all must wait, for in the heat of war, everybody must know of the rightness of the warrior, and every other view, opinion or passing thought must be defeated.

He who forsakes argument, even when he is right: a sunnah unheard. Speak good or remain silent: another sunnah ignored. Be just even against your own selves: a command unpracticed. He does not utter a sentence except that an angel is near him ready to record it: an observation unobserved. The most excellent are those from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe: the best of advice unheeded.

Isn’t it strange that war is so easy and peace so difficult, because peace just requires everyone to do nothing, while war requires them to do so much? Peace costs nothing, while war costs all.

On physical battlefields great armaments are fired, lives squandered, money dissolved, emotions crushed, innocents obliterated, passions heightened, humanity aborted.

On virtual battlefields words are weapons, emotions are bullets, anger bombs, but in the rage of the battle it is the soul of the attacking combatant that dies; it is his heart which shrivels up, his ego inflated. Incline to peace remains unrecalled. On this battlefield his words must reign victorious, and all others must be vanquished.

And so the battle rages on. Into the night and the following day. These words can never be exhausted. There is still so much more to say.

The way of truth

To me, it is remarkable that the progeny of a community which invested so heavily in the sciences of verification and authenticity to preserve the teachings of our religion will nowadays forward and repost every piece of unverified nonsense, malicious junk and political propaganda that appears before us on a slab of glass, without a second’s thought.

In the age of the internet everything and nothing is true. Whatever serves a purpose will be true for the moment. A lie become insignificant; it is all part of the push for truth.

We have forgotten, or are ignorant of, a verse of guidance: “And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know it.” –Quran 2:42.

But as we have discovered, it has always been so. Political machinations will trump even the sacred if it serves the agendas of the greedy and untruthful. Cruel and corrupt men often set us upon a path of their own design, heedless of the demands of truth, goodness and light.

We must resist. We must return to the way of truth. That is the true rebellion of our age.

Disappear

We disappear, pretending to head for the hills, secretly hoping that somebody will miss us, or wonder what happened to us, or ask after us, until it becomes patently clear that nobody gives a damn. So all of a sudden we reappear, prancing around like clowns, yelling, “Here I am. Here I am. I’m back, and I have so much more to say.” But still nobody gives a damn. “Go, leave us,” comes the collective retort. And at last, perhaps, the ego will finally mope away, humbled, without constantly wondering what everybody thinks. Without the perpetual refrain, “Me, me, me.” Disappear.

Don’t be surprised

If you hold everyone in contempt, don’t be surprised if everyone holds you in contempt too. If you can see no good in those around you, don’t be surprised if those around you see no good in you. If you have concluded that you are always right and everybody else is always wrong, don’t be surprised if people always turn away repulsed.

Be grateful for the blessing of you Lord and walk humbly on the earth with patience.

Be grateful

Oh soul, God dislikes contemptuous bitterness. Overlook the shortcomings of others. Have mercy on your companions. Display true gratitude for the blessings showered upon you. Put away your repugnant scorn. Faith is goodness, love and light. Be as those “who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, Peace!”

Timid aversion

I think I am too English to embrace public displays of piety — a tasbih always in hand, salutations always on the tongue, eyes glazed over, intoxicated by the presence of the One.

But I know it is wrong of me. Theirs is a faith more courageous than mine, more willing to be seen in the world. God alone knows what hearts contain; only He knows our intentions. As to us mere mortals: our mission is to think the best of our companions.

I regret that when I meet the outwardly pious one, my initial feelings are of aversion. But that is a disease of my heart. And so the inward mutterings begin. “He is better than you,” I tell myself, recalling my many sins. “He doesn’t care what people think,” I whisper, remembering my shy and timid faith. “His character and actions speak volumes,” I remind myself, “while yours are just like dust.”

Faith comes in many forms, revealing itself in many ways. I regret that I have become so judgemental and so intolerant, when it is my words, thoughts and deeds which fall so short. May the One purify our hearts and grant us the best of character.