To the one we wronged

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we drove you out of the religion. I’m sorry that we drove you from the path you once embraced with sincerity and passion. The one you once pursued with all that inner strength of yours, that forced you to sit at the feet of those you thought would guide you, enlighten your soul and raise you to great heights. I’m sorry that instead we trampled you under our feet, and slandered your name and spoiled your reputation everywhere we went.

Continue reading “To the one we wronged”

Down the rabbit hole

The triumphant traditionalists demand that we wipe our memory clean, and forget the rebellion they enjoined at the turn of the decade, when answers were apparently easy and divine right on their side.

And now those same short-sighted scholars, who could not anticipate the anarchy that would unfold, tell us that they are the answer to all this madness. That they alone can deliver us from this nightmare, with their grand appeals to traditional Sunni Islam, which gave the world 1400 years of peace and security. Continue reading “Down the rabbit hole”

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”

The challenge of our times

So the tables have turned. As I approach my fifth decade — the hallowed middle age — I find myself in the role of those unwilling advisers I castigated in my youth for their answers to questions of belief and doubt. From my mid-teens to early twenties I would demand guidance from my elders, be it a youth worker, a teacher or priest, insisting that they assuage my doubts and prove to me that God was real and that our faith was true. I would take myself off to church and later an evangelical cult in an effort to be persuaded. I would harangue my parents with questions that I had already decided would never satisfy me. I wanted others to persuade me — on my terms — that I could believe as they did. Continue reading “The challenge of our times”

Dear Celebrity Reformer

You probably don’t remember me, but you took me under your wing in the late evening of the day I uttered my testimony of faith. You wanted me to embrace what you now rebuff as Islamism; I wasn’t interested (few of us were, but we were polite enough not to deeply trouble you). I had just embraced the oneness of God. Indeed, I had just acknowledged the existence of God. I had just set out on the road of faith; to you it was all about ideology and neo-imperialism. We were singing from different hymn books, so to speak. Continue reading “Dear Celebrity Reformer”

The paralysis of apocalypse now

Many religious folk, it seems, thrive on visions of the last days. The Church of England might be setting out a blueprint for a more compassionate nation here on earth [1. Who is my neigbour (pdf)], but Christian prophecy is a massive movement in the United States and across Africa. Many Muslims, meanwhile, are consumed by the impending arrival of the promised Mahdi, the return of Jesus and the onslaught of the Dajjal or Anti-Christ. One only needs to sit in the company of students of knowledge for a little while, before conversation turns to the imminent signs of the Hour. It is a cause of excitement for some — jubilation at the prospect of world-changing events.

Continue reading “The paralysis of apocalypse now”

Reading hearts

As a community we need to stop pretending that we can see into the hearts of others, for it is damaging our mental health and preventing us from contributing positively to society. Our sense of victimhood is exaggerated when every event that effects us is viewed though the prism of understanding that is, “It’s because I’m Muslim”. Witness the defeatist threads on social media, in which every misdemeanour of the other is amplified as further evidence that they’re all out to get us. Of course, if you perpetually reside on the comment pages of The Guardian and Telegraph websites amidst the trolls and haters, you will naturally conclude that everybody in the world hates you. But to step outside, carrying those sentiments with you, is to become judge and jury on the intentions of others.

Continue reading “Reading hearts”

Letter to myself

Dear Younger Self,

Salam alaikum!

I am writing to you from the future. In a couple of years I will be 40; you have just passed 20. The year is 2015 and while it only vaguely resembles to world of 1989’s Back to the Future II, it is shaping up to mirror the dystopian nightmares of other works of contemporary fiction: ours is an advanced technological society, supported by wars without end overseas.

The Internet, which you have recently discovered, has grown exponentially and has had a vast impact on our lives, both for good and bad. That brick of a mobile phone in your pocket has evolved into a handheld computer, vastly more powerful than that huge beige machine on your desk.  Your 100MB Zip disks are long obsolete; today we can store 128GB of data on a slither of plastic smaller than your fingernails. As for your dreams: instead of working in International Development, you work in a new-fangled field called Web Development. I’m not sure how that happened, but I blame you! Continue reading “Letter to myself”

Awake

Pinch yourself. Awake! The Internet is like Alice in Wonderland, a strange unreality, so unbelievably true. The maddening clamour of decapitated voices call to folly, chaos and the obscure, like a cloudy magic-mushroom induced alternative dimension. This tenacious entanglement is a web indeed, a pretender to reality, an exaggerated representation of a billion souls unfiltered by the constraints of worldly life; of eye contact, the weather forecast, the human touch. Continue reading “Awake”

The return of the ragged Hajji

21 December 2006: It is our forth day in Medina in the warming heat of Arabia according to our own grand master plan. Shortly we will depart for Mecca and the wondrous House. Planned months in advance and carefully financed—ihram sourced a month before departure, suitcases packed two weeks before—but though we plot and plan, Allah is always the best of planners. Here I sit in my own study, warming myself against the icy air beside the radiator, the fog outside covering the hill across the valley, the house across the street obscured by this hanging haze.

Continue reading “The return of the ragged Hajji”

Hajj Bandits

In days of old the tribulations faced by the pilgrim on his journey to Mecca included the assault of ravaging bandits determined to make quick profits by pillaging the winding desert caravans. In our own age, say some, the road to Mecca is easy, a comfortable voyage by jetliner to comfortable five-star accommodation. That may be so for some, but others of us unlucky enough to encounter the twenty-first century bandits know that all of us are tested by degrees according to our intention and will.

Continue reading “Hajj Bandits”