Time machine

If I had a time machine, I would go back to interrupt family discussions, just as it was being said to others within earshot of my younger self, “I don’t know what’s wrong with that boy; he just won’t get on.” Armed with reams of clinical research from the future, I would provide potential answers to that persistent lament.

If you had a time machine, what would you go back to change or do?

Significance

Of course, all these things are only of significance to me. I can be sure they mean nothing at all to others. Some things became significant only because I wrote about them, impacting my psyche forever. I know recent unveilings were intended for me alone: a reminder from the One that He is in control. He alone was witness to all that my heart contained in those days. Here, signs just for me, made real when I chose to let go of old obsessions two decades ago and take up this path instead. A clear sign, truly humbling.

Just for me

How the world changed for everyone… or maybe it didn’t… maybe I just misunderstood everything… maybe all I once experienced was simply for me… because of the way I was… or the way I appeared… perhaps I believed principals really were at stake… ideals were being upheld… but it was all really just a game… just more of the same… the eternal mockery of nerd-face.

Old foes

I hope you’re not still angry with me. Maybe you assume I’m angry with you, but I’m not.

It’s said, “It’s better to make mistakes in forgiving than in punishing.” Better to be merciful than to hold a grudge.

Actually, I owe you a debt. So no, don’t take my speaking of the past as a bitter lament. You were right really.

You were a guide along the way. You called me to something better. Now it’s my turn to reciprocate.

Cease

Stop time-travelling, Tim. Live in the moment. Return to the present. Stop leapfrogging the years, forgetting every positive memory. Life is a continuum. It never came to a standstill. Why forget ten-thousand other days for the sake of a few score? Return, return, back to the present. Soon you will be raised, and it will be as if you tarried here for just an hour or a part of a day. Be grateful for the life you have lived; this life you have been granted.

Fragments

I realise memories are unreliable. All the more unreliable for the writer of novels, who struggles to separate fact from fiction now, not helped by melancholic bulk-deletions which obliterated every last trace of what I once had written. All I have now are fragments: partial files, providing a limited snapshot of the distant past, most of them indicating that my recollections are incomplete at best.

Continue reading “Fragments”

All gone

So Manor Road parade in West Ealing is no more. I suppose it was inevitable, ever since they replaced the old cozy Waitrose with that silver box and block of flats. The area lost all character then. It is painful returning to our old neighbourhood today. But that is the cost of progress. Nothing stays the same. So we are gone too.

What is true?

It’s 1996. April, I guess. I spent the first few months after my A-levels living in a bedsit in the village of Milton north of Cambridge, working by day testing software on the science park, suffocated by my blues at night. I hadn’t applied for university; I was in a rut, consumed by despair, living a solitary existence. When my contract ended, I returned to my parents’ home, causing them to wonder all over again, “What on earth is wrong with this boy?”

Continue reading “What is true?”

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”

Calling Malcolm X

Last night, at the age of 92, Rosa Parks died peacefully in her sleep. Refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in 1955, she unwittingly initiated the US civil rights movement. Following her arrest for this ‘crime’, Baptist minister Martin Luther King organised a mass black boycott of buses lasting over a year that prompted a change to the laws of segregation.

What would either of them think of the state of race relations in some parts of Britain today? The Independent reported yesterday that the conflict in Birmingham this weekend was sparked by rumours that a gang of Asians had gang raped a 14 year old Jamaican girl; those accused believe the claim was made to damage the business of an Asian shopkeeper selling Afro-Carribean beauty products, a pirate radio station already calling for a boycott of Asian businesses. “This is racial harmony in Britain today,” complained one shop keeper, “where a rumour of a crime leads to a mob who trash your business and want to smash your face in because of your colour.”

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote in the same newspaper yesterday that racism is getting worse. She believes that it is no longer possible to talk of racism, because racists have now been emboldened to claim victimisation whenever the accusation of racism is filed against them. It was only a matter of time — publishers have been using ‘ethnic’ authors for years to publish what would ordinarily be considered racist were it authored by a white person. Alibhai-Brown reports how Joan Rivers told Darcus Howe that she was bored with his obsession with blackness on last Wednesday’s Midweek on Radio 4, while he sugessted that she was racially prejudiced. This was a small encapsulation of a wider problem in society today, argued Alibhai-Brown.

Meanwhile Joan Smith is foaming about the religious hatred Bill in The Independent today. With this Bill we are at risk of creating a climate of ever-greater intolerance. “So dreadful is this proposed piece of legislation that people who rarely agree on anything are united in opposition to a law that will curb free speech,” she writes. She believes that if made law it will only embolden religious extremists to launch assaults on members of other faiths and secularists. Perhaps, for once, Alibhai-Brown was onto something:

“We talk incessantly about multiculturalism, faith battles, Islamophobia, integration, assimilation, segregation, immigration, terrorism, the British identity, inner-city problems and ethnic tensions, but not race — even though it colours every one of the above.”