Arise

But the past is gone to all humans. Time. Both unfathomable and true.

Oh blues, blues: please leave me. Oh tears: be gone.

Be back in the moment. Arise.

Oh self: back to the present.

Return.

Footnotes

A word of warning to the young demagogues who must forever berate the forlorn Mister Nawaz: when we knew him, he was just like you.

Indeed, over the years, we have watched many an unwavering firebrand come and go, each one vanishing into obscurity or infamy, after abandoning the harshest and hardest opinions that had once caused them to rebuke all others. Those of us who have lived a little longer can enumerate all of the stalwarts of community, once fierce in their defence of orthodoxy, nowadays but footnotes, long forgotten by the generation that came after them. Some of us even remember their names, and their own rallying calls against the backsliders and hypocrites they saw all around them.

So mark my words, dear young revolutionary — dazzled by your own brilliance, aroused by your own bold certainties, disdainful of your opponents, conceited in your dogmatic rightness — know that in another twenty years, you too, like the rest of us, will be but a footnote in the annals of community. Some may even remember your name, referencing you in a cautionary tale told to the next generation of immovable, unwavering activists, who believe themselves divinely guided, urgently speaking the truth to power, because they alone represent our mighty tradition, so misunderstood by all others. Yes, know that your Lord can do all this, for “Indeed, God does not like the conceited and boastful.”

Acts of faith

They come to you brandishing what they claim to be an undoubtable historical work, in which they have absolute faith — faith much like that of any believer — which proves your misguidance. Ask them if that work is extant and they will grudgingly admit that the original has not survived. Ask if his student’s work survived, and once more we learn, no, not so. So what is our source? Various students of the student, who passed the information on to others that we don’t know much about, who then edited their versions of the work, resulting in significant differences between editions.   Continue reading “Acts of faith”

Reopen the books

It is always astonishing to encounter people who describe themselves as libertarians advocating for a final solution to deal with a group of people they have convinced themselves are a threat to us all. Remarkable all the more when they present themselves as historians, well versed in apparently obscured narratives of the distant past. If you can’t recall recent European history — horrors witnessed by our grandparents’ generation — how can you possibly judge tales of the ancients and claim yourself an undisputed expert, with the solution to all our problems? Open those books and read your history all over again.

Reports

There is a clear difference between “it is reported that such and such happened” and “such and such happened”, let alone, “I believe it happened”.

We are familiar with this concept in the science of hadith, where we learn, “It is reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said…” The learned draw this distinction for good reason: to attribute words to him, while allowing for the possibility that he did not in fact say them. Continue reading “Reports”

The schizophrenia of the times

My newsfeed reveals a schizophrenic attitude to faith and conflict. Today’s conflicts and violence are condemned absolutely, while the triumphant conquests of the past enjoy great eulogies, their reality whitewashed and distorted. We pine after a glorious past, oblivious to former transgressions, to doctrines of perennial war and imperial rules of engagement as cruel and unforgiving as the battles of any of the zealots of today.

Continue reading “The schizophrenia of the times”

New histories

I am always fascinated by the communal and collective reactions when a well known person passes away, because it shines light on the development of other histories.

It is well worth detaching yourself from the moment, standing back and studying the story telling that follows.

There are the biographies of those who knew the departed intimately, who shared every moment of their lives. There are the curated autobiographies left behind. There is the apocrypha: that body of statements incorrectly attributed to them. There is the mythology attached to the legend. There are the statements of well known others that cement authority. There are the claims of the multitude of individuals who only met the departed once, or who encountered him from a distance. There are selected sound bites. There are the views of enemies and opportunists. To each observer, their own narrative. To each individual, their own claims: saint or sinner, hero or fiend, man or more-than-man.

When we study our own reactions to the story telling and myth making of the present, we begin to better understand the legends and narratives of the past, and perhaps may begin the process of separating fact from fiction, as much as we are able.

The land that welcomed Emir Abdel Kader

When the French invaded Algeria in 1830 they were met with fierce resistance from its Muslim scholars. In time these scholars lost the war against the French. About 500 of them were expelled from Algeria with their families, never to return. However they were welcomed somewhere else: in Damascus.

The area where they settled is called Hay alMuhajireen, the neighborhood of the migrants. They thrived in Damascus and enriched it.

After the scholars were expelled, a man rose and led the revolution against the French armies. His name was alAmir Abdel Kader. He fought for many years and was a champion of human rights. Even his prisoners had rights. In the end, however, he also had to surrender.

The Emir, his family and followers were taken into captivity in France. He was moved to Toulon, then Pau and then the Amboise castle. The physical and moral health of the Emir deteriorated during their stay at this castle. Victor Hugo (French), Lord George of Londonderry (British) and others campaigned for his release.

The Emir was released after Napoleon Bonaparte became ruler and he thought about where to move next. He was contacted by the Algerian scholars in Damascus, who invited him to move to them. Eventually he moved there and was later buried next to aShaykh Muhyideen. They were spiritually one.

During his stay in Damascus, the Druze attacked the Christians and killed many of them. The Emir opened the doors of his house and many fleeing Christians took refuge therein. The Druze even came to his door asking for the Christians to be released to them. His reply was that if they did not go away he would call his compatriots and would fight them.

For this, many rulers of the time decorated him or sent him gifts. The list includes Queen Victoria, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln and others. He was recognised as a vehicle for peace in this troubled world. The United States have named a town after him.

There are undoubtedly some bad people in Syria. However some of its people are amongst the greatest people alive.

 

The burden of history

It was not long ago that I held a smug sense of satisfaction that our tradition had not been burdened by the intellectual acrobatics that characterised the first three hundred years of Christian history in the run up to the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. But the more I learn about the intellectual endeavours of the scholars of our own tradition — some brilliant beyond comprehension, some patently absurd to the unlearned mind — the more I realise how terribly naïve I was. Continue reading “The burden of history”