Sleepless

I could not sleep again last night. All night long, memories of my sins, stacking up before me. I wish I had chosen the path of righteousness through all those years, instead of heeding the calls of my scheming self. I’m not very happy these days. I blame that on the realisation that I spent most of the past three decades subsumed in sin. If only I’d had the piety of my companions. If only I was refined like them. If only I had understood the nature of the world, and of the life we live. Here we are, asleep, just dreaming. Soon we will awake to the true reality, and then we will discover our loss. It will be as if we had been asleep only for an afternoon, or a part of it, all of a sudden wide awake, alert to the accounting that awaits us. Perhaps it is a blessing that I have been granted such great regrets during this dress rehearsal of the sleeplessness to come. May the Lord of my soul enable me to repent and reform, before the curtain’s close.

Wanderer

Wandering one: do not lose hope in the mercy of your Lord. You are doing well. Stay strong. Take it slow, but stay strong. Allow your living faith to sustain you. Hold fast.

Feed the poor. Clothe the destitute. Provide shelter for the homeless. Be an ally to the orphans. Walk humbly on the earth. Strive for peace. Spend your wealth in the service of others. Let that living faith of yours sustain you. Try your best and leave the rest.

Be as you appear

So the irony. I may have been inspired and guided by the way you carried yourself: by a smile, the appearance of modesty, the appearance of humility, a kindness imagined. For I always believed we are as we appear.

“Be like the sun for grace and mercy. Be like the night to cover others’ faults. Be like running water for generosity. Be like death for rage and anger. Be like the Earth for modesty. Appear as you are. Be as you appear.”

Attributed to Rumi, but I have not verified

Appear as you are. Be as you appear to be. I was guided by appearances. Perhaps that was enough for me. Perhaps that was all that was needed.

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.

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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?

Neither east nor west

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but righteousness is to believe in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and to give wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask for help, and for freeing slaves; to establish prayer and give zakah; to fulfill promises; to be patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Such are those who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.

QURAN 2:177

Regret

For the majority of my life, I have been driven and dominated by my lower self.

If others knew all that I have done and what I hide inside, they would disown me. I disown myself.

All I have to hold onto now is hope in the mercy of my Lord. “And who despairs of the mercy of God except one who has gone astray…”

Now my only prayer: that He forgives me, guides me and reforms my soul. This my daily prayer. Hope in His mercy, but perpetually in a state of regret, fearful that my remorse can never be enough.

Nightly I recall all I have done. Nightly I call out for His clemency. O Allah, have mercy on this wayward soul who has wronged himself and others.

O Allah, shower me in mercy, rectify for me all of my affairs and set me on a straight way.

Without the One who created me, time, the universe and every atom, all I am left with is regret.

Contentment

Be content with what you have. You never know what blessing will come your way, nor when they come, nor where they come from. God will provide, whether through unexpected gifts or self-seeded plants in the garden. Daily, Allah will surprise you. One day you may think to yourself, “I should get myself a something or other.” When, the following day, one is gifted to you, though you mentioned it to no one, how else could you respond than to utter praises of the exalted Lord? Alhamdulilah, alhamdulilah. Be content with what you have, and God will take care of all of your affairs.

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.

My account

Make up your own mind. Think for yourself. Don’t be bullied by scholars, acolytes, cultists, proselytisers, politicians, critics, bloggers. Weigh up all the evidence you have gathered and have courage to make your own judgements. Defer to experts in their own fields, yes, but do not subserviently abdicate intellectual autonomy to others in pursuit of piety. You will stand alone on that awesome day, to be held to account for your own deeds. Your leaders, for sure, will denounce you and deny having any influence over you at all.

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Dust

True scholars and sheikhs are not those calling themselves scholars and sheikhs, assigning themselves grand titles. When you encounter the true scholar or sheikh — man or woman — you will know it. By their fruit you shall know them.

Those bickering men on YouTube and social media, belittling one another: they are not your guides. The true scholar and sheikh is not found manicuring vast followings, preaching how great they are. The true scholar or sheikh teaches that only God is truly great, and that they are but dust.

The true scholar and sheikh is humble, walking lightly on the earth, who responds to the ignorant with these words: “Peace!”

The true scholar and sheikh may seem a little and insignificant man or woman to many. They may mend their own clothes. They may polish the shoes of others. They may carve wooden spoons. They may live in a tiny basement flat, or an end of terrace house. They may work in a factory, or as a doctor, in academia or tech support.

When you meet the man or woman who sees themselves as dust, as a grain of sand, as a gnat, or a molecule or electron or quark: then you will find those who are special, who truly understood the message of their Lord.

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.

To verify

My companions grow weary of my reluctance to own anything anymore. It will be said, “What was that hadith about such and such?” I will reply: “I don’t know.” It will be said, “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said such and such.” I will say: “I don’t know if he said that.” It is not that I mean to be forever contrary. It is just that as the years have passed by, I have learnt that much of what I learned early on has turned out to be spurious and untrue.

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To move on

For the past couple of weeks, I have had a serious bout of the blues. The shouting, yelling and screaming of the present smashes with full force into my perpetual habitation of the past. It is true: contrary to the habit of the pious believer, I live my life too much in the past, always mulling over past mistakes. Too often I have fled difficult situations or events beyond my control, without ever seeking closure, so that they gnaw away at me for years on end. I know I must seek refuge in the Lord of time, and discover a truer faith which allows me to escape my morass. Easier said than done.

Moving on is never easy. We cling to the past, even when all evidence makes clear that those days are gone. Yes, like that old friend of mine, long departed. That companion with whom I thought I shared a bond. It has been years since we saw one-another, but for years I kept in touch. I should have noticed that it was a one-way relationship. If I did not contact them, we would have no connection at all; when we spoke, I would ask them how they were, but they never reciprocated. I did not mind; they had been ill, so I made allowances. I just wanted to hear that they were well and doing okay. Yes, so I hung on, long past our expiry date. No longer. I have, at last, moved on.

The past is a room I can no longer enter. That door has been locked. All we have left is the present and the future. Perhaps the time has come to close those old doors behind me. To repent, silently, for all the wrong I did, and finally move on. Ah, but the blues: leave me, leave me, please.

Making amends

How to make amends for the mistakes of the past? In reflective mode, I have been writing a lot of apologies lately, to those I could at least reach. But what of those lost along the way?

I joined a social network for professionals last week in a desperate attempt to rediscover some of my alumni friends of old. On the first day, I came across a lovely chap I have not seen in 22 years. We picked up conversation as if it was just yesterday. It took another four days before I happened upon another old friend, whom I have wanted to properly apologise to for the same length of time. In the end, I had no courage to apologise after so long. Raking up the past just didn’t seem right, but relief came with their greeting: “So nice to hear from you… I recognised you right away.” There was a smiley face on the end. Perhaps my penitence is not needed, already forgiven, or forgotten.

But there are others with whom I feel I must still make amends, even if a quarter of a century has now passed. Ah, but alas, I cannot even remember their names. This absence of mind is probably mutual: no doubt they would not remember my name either, or even recall my existence, and after all these years would have no idea what I am talking about. But still it is written in sijjeen, a record to be opened on an awful day. I still travel back in time to those awkward days in my dreams. They cause discomfort within, for I fear one day I will be asked about them again, and those I wronged will glance back at me accusingly, demanding their rights.

So it is that I search and search again for those lost along the way, with whom I must make amends. Perhaps it is a futile quest, but how else to achieve peace within? No, more than that: how to prepare for that fearsome day?

Or am I just veering towards insanity?

Ridicule

For the good of your work, I am with you. I overlook what remains, filtering out the nonsense.

My wife, who cannot stand your tomfoolery, says to me, “Why are you listening to that fool?” I say, I take what benefits me and leave the rest.

Even so, sometimes it gets too much.

I too am a critic of men you criticise. But the mockery? If we are guided by the Quran as we say we are, then perhaps there are verses that may remind us. An ignoramus such as I need not enumerate verses before the learned.

I used to criticise one of these men even before it was fashionable to do so, taking issue with both his corpus and his tactics to gain influence. Ideologically, I might even consider him my bitter foe.

But to mock him as you mock him? To insult and defame him, deploying your amateur psychology to hypothesise on the wounds that fomented his fractious rage…

If you had been tested as he has been tested, you too might be broken, lashing out all over, leaving a trail of destruction in your wake.

If you knew what some know, but most are oblivious to — a private tragedy he never mentions — I am sure you would have second thoughts about laying into him so personally.

O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule other women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other with offensive nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after faith. And whoever does not repent — then it is those who are the wrongdoers.

Quran 49:11

Criticise his sentiments, of course. Criticise mine too. Evaluate and appraise his output, critiquing and rebuffing ideas that must be challenged. Many of them are terrifying and must be rejected. Give the power to the argument. If you have something better, bring it.

But as for the ridicule, derision, insults, defamation… leave all this, for it only diminishes you. Those that listen to you — if they are grounded in a faith which demands the best of manners — think less of you for each insult deployed before the braying mob.

Certainly, I am less inclined to listen now. To me, you have become no different to the one you deride, who likewise insults and mocks and slanders everyone who crosses his path. It is truly a turnoff for the seeker.

Lies upon lies

The lies we must tell to feed our nafs. I shudder now, how my domineering nafs dominated me so completely. Numbed now, perhaps, only by minor melancholy, or an endocrine deficiency deliberately mismanaged in the pursuit of sanity. For years and years I led my own soul astray. Nightly, these recollections keep me awake. I fear my return to the One. I have failed completely. Lies upon lies upon lies. Can reform really obliterate all that went before? Can I repent enough? Can I become sincere? Can I make amends?

“He has succeeded who purifies the soul, and he has failed who corrupts the soul.” 

Quran 91:9-10

Ya Allah, purify my heart. Without You I am lost.

Compassion

They rail against compassionate imams. I think to myself: “What’s wrong with being compassionate?”

Every verse of the Book, but one, begins, “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.”

Compassion is a trait to aspire to it. We need more of it, not less.

The steep path

I understand the need of disenfranchised people to stand together in solidarity, but Ex-Muslim activism comes across as just another sect, its activists behaving exactly like the fundamentalists they decry. There are former Muslims, lapsed Muslims, irreligious Muslims, agnostics, converts to other faiths, seekers and small e ex-Muslims; most of these I can get along with just fine. I was an agnostic in my youth and have been a seeker through most of my adulthood, firm in absolutes only for a few short months at the height of my convertitus. Capital E Ex-Muslims very much remind me of myself in the convertitus phase, caught up on absolutes and certainties, and overdosing in self-righteousness.

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Wicked men

Wicked men exploit the naivety of children in the name of religion. I am not of the “throw away the key” school of thought, no matter how stupid and foolish the teenage runaways were. A fourteen or fifteen year old is not mature enough to navigate religious bullying and pious propaganda. I feel sorry for young people led astray by suspect eschatology — tales promising eternal damnation, attributed to their prophet —  to scare them into taking action a mature mind would shun. Who do I blame? Parents, maulanas, muftis and social media demagogues, themselves immature and insecure, incapable of calling children to a middle way. The tantrums of teenagers dwarfed by the tantrums of grown men and women, playing out in public for all to see. Too much religion and very few faithful ones.