Age of Jahiliyah

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Are You One of Those Sufis? by Mohamed Ghilan

Imam Abū Hāmid Al-Ghazzāli in his Deliverance from Error talks about having investigated all the intellectual discourses in order to find certainty. The only discourse he couldn’t intellectually comprehend was that of the Sufīs. He read their books and tried to figure it out, but eventually acknowledged that this was one discourse that can’t be intellectualized – it must be realized. That’s the meaning of his statement:

فعلمت يقينا أنهم أرباب الأحوال، لا أصحاب الأقوال

I knew with certainty that they [Sufis] are people of states, not people of statements

Islam is a tradition about obtaining a state. This is embedded within the name of the religion, which unlike others is not named after a person or location. It’s a state where those who see you are automatically reminded of God. If the only way you remind people of God is through your tongue, know that your state hasn’t really been transformed by the statements you utter. People ask what Sufism is, wondering if it’s about dancing and whirling or asking dead people in their graves for blessings or just hanging out with the brothers or sisters and singing nasheeds. It’s none of that. Sufism is the transformation of Sharīa (outward practices of Islam) into Haqīqa (inward reality of Islam). It’s the transition from statements into states. It’s the movement of knowledge from your brain into your heart. It’s the transformation of seeing the world using your sight into seeing it using your insight. It’s the beginning of an intellectual acknowledgement of Nothing Worthy of Worship Except God (Lā Ilāha Illa Allah) and ending with complete consciousness of that acknowledgement with your whole being (to worship God as if you see Him and if you don’t see Him know that He sees you).

It’s unfortunate that many Muslims have developed a type of allergy towards anything that carries the scent of Sufism. This is in much the same way that many Muslims have also developed a type of allergy to anything that carries the scent of Salafism. Both of these terms are constantly used by scholars of Islam to indicate different realities – Sufism as that of an internal realization, and Salafism as that of an external one. An important principle in Islamic jurisprudence states that judgment of a thing is a branch of conceptualizing it. If the conceptualization is faulty, it’s highly likely that the judgment is also faulty.

The heart of Sufism is about setting on the path of fulfilling the Quranic commands to leave the outward of sin as well as the inward of it (Al-Anaam 6:120). It’s about having a constant concern over the state of one’s heart, because when all is said and done, only a sound heart will be of benefit (Ash-Shuara’ 26:88). Sufism is about taking the recitation of the Quran with the tongue and turning it into a recitation with the heart. It’s about adhering to the Sharia not because of an ulterior motive of obtaining Paradise or avoiding Hell, but because God is deserving of it. It’s the ultimate realization of the love of God and fearing not His punishment, but His not accepting our always deficient prayer and fasting. It’s the hope that He accepts our repentance for not being able to fulfil his due rights upon us. This type of worship and relationship with God is what Imam An’Nawawi, in his commentary on his 40 Hadith collection, calls the Worship of the Free People as opposed to the Worship of the Slaves or the Worship of the Merchants.

Rābi’a al-‘Adawiyya said in one of her famous supplications:

يا رب إذا كنت أسلمت طمعا في جنتك فاحرمني منها، وإذا كنت أسلمت خوفا من نارك فأدخلني فيها، وإذا أسلمت طمعا في رؤية وجهك الكريم فلا تحرمني منه

O Lord, if I submitted hoping for Your Paradise, then deny me it, and if I submitted out of fear from Your Fire, then enter me into it, and if I submitted out of hope of seeing Your Blessed Countenance then don’t deny me it.

In the current age of Islamic discourse that focuses on the rewards that await the believers and punishments that await the transgressors, this supplication of Rābi’a is usually met with great apprehension. Many have misunderstood it to indicate a belittling of Paradise and Hell. However, what Rabi’a showed here was her complete submission to her Lord, seeking nothing in return but His acceptance. It’s a realization of her answer to a simple, yet profound question: if you knew that Paradise and Hell didn’t exist and once you die you will not come back, would you still worship God?

This language of love is usually lost upon the ones who go through life treating their relationships as balance sheets with assets and liabilities. Meanwhile they forget the verses praising those who seek the highest calling:

ومن أحسن دينا ممن أسلم وجهه لله وهو محسن

And who has a better religion than one who submits themselves entirely to God while doing good?  (An-Nisa’ 4:125)

ولا تطرد الذين يدعون ربهم بالغدوة والعشي يريدون وجهه

And do not drive away those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, they desire only His favour. (Al-Anaam 6:52)

واصبر نفسك مع الذين يدعون ربهم بالغدوة والعشي يريدن وجهه

And withhold yourself with those who call on their Lord morning and evening desiring His goodwill. (Al-Kahf 18:28)

ومن يسلم وجهه إلى الله وهو محسن فقد استمسك بالعروة الوثقى

And whoever submits themselves wholly to God while doing excellent work has indeed taken hold of the firmest thing upon which one can lay hold
(Luqman 31:22)

True knowledge of God, and in turn awe of Him – This is the final end every Muslim is seeking. When looking upon the world, most people are amazed by its harmony, balance, and overall beauty. Sufism is about turning that amazement by the Creation into amazement by the Creator. A Sufī is one who doesn’t see the effects or the material causes of these effects. A Sufī sees the efficient cause behind it all. Rather than seeing it as a creation, a Sufī sees it as a manifestation of the attributes of God. Sufism is the path of transcendence from the physical to the metaphysical, and seeing the metaphysical within the physical. A Sufī is at heart a Salafi who adheres to Sharīa as a means to attaining this Haqīqa.

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Malcom X, Converts & Moving Past Window Dressing Islam

Malcolm X, Converts & Moving Past Window Dressing Islam

Malcolm X, Converts & Moving Past Window Dressing Islam

Mohammed Saleem on 16 February 2015

Mohammed Saleem

America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered ‘white’—but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.

-The Autobiography of Malcolm X 1

Growing up Muslim in greater white America, Malcolm X was a figure rarely spoken of.  This was no different in the insular immigrant Muslim community, borne out of an ignorance of the full trajectory of his life, its own racial attitudes and ethnocentric concerns, and a disinterest in the struggle for black liberation (and indeed most issues facing indigenous minorities). If there was a cursory mention of him, it simply parroted the narrative and assessment of Malcolm that white Christian America defined for them: He was one of those Black Muslims (not a real one), he was dangerous, he ruffled feathers, he was unpalatable to his society—in other words, he was the opposite of what most immigrant Muslims were trying to achieve in their materialistic American dream that promised security. Like most immigrants, trying to gain a socioeconomic foothold in the land and establish themselves was the paramount concern; interest in the local struggles unpopular to their masters, the ruling white establishment—no matter how severe the injustice—was not.

While second-generation Muslims enjoyed the economic comforts of what their immigrant parents had established for them, finding relevancy in the American landscape and forming a distinctly American Muslim identity was the challenge. For me, and I’m sure countless others, the fateful day was when, by chance, I came across The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a teenager browsing in the library. To my astonishment, as I flicked through the pages, a chapter titled “Mecca” caught my eye and I read on. For the first time in my life, there it was, an example of a real American Muslim that rang true. The specifics of our alienation may have differed, but its essence, and the path to rectifying it, was the same. Any notions of cultural dissonance and ambiguity were finally clarified into a vision of who the American Muslim should be—reflections of the spiritual light of the Messenger ﷺ, calling humanity to what is greater than themselves, while freeing them from the yokes of injustice and barriers that prevent them from reaching their God-given potential.

Whether you are “immigrant” or “indigenous”,The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the book every American Muslim needs to have close to their heart. His moving account of the Hajj, in particular, and the ensuing transformation he experiences is required reading. We do him a great disservice however when we limit our conception of him to only the Hajj.Pigeonholing Malcolm to his Hajj experience alone also reflects our tendency to do the same to convertsin general, as we often ignore their life experience preceding their Islam, even though those experiences fostered their Islam and could, if we allowed it, foster our own awakening. Reflecting on the period of Malcolm’s life after the Hajj is therefore essential because it highlights our need to integrate our role as callers to Islam with the call to justice.

After the Hajj in April 1964, Malcolm travelled extensively throughout Africa and the Middle East (two separate trips spanning a total of six months) forming relationships with leaders while highlighting the struggle of black Americans in a greater global context, calling on the world to support their liberation. Before Hajj, locally at home, he had established the Muslim Mosque Inc. to serve as the spiritual base for Muslims. After Hajj, he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), a non-religious organization that allowed non-Muslims and Muslims to participate. The two organizations were conceived to be complementary, one serving the spiritual needs specific to Muslims themselves and necessary for black liberation, the other seeking broader cooperation with those of other faiths to achieve that same goal. The flowering of his faith did not make him more exclusive, but rather made his efforts moreexpansive, as the fight for black liberation was a human issue, not simply for those of African descent. True faith expands both merciful love and justice, rather than restricting it.

Several of his contemporaries in the Muslim world hoped however that he would stress calling people to orthodox Islam after Hajj, perhaps hoping his outspoken focus on black liberation would fade away or cease. They failed to understand that truly internalizing Islam as Malcolm did bolstered and guided his effort to serve humanity, first and foremost by addressing the most pressing injustice facing his community—fighting white supremacy. It was a call he would never abandon, as it was inseparable from his very religious identity.3

This attitude is sadly shared by many “born” Muslims in our relationship with our brothers and sisters who have accepted Islam. Like Malcolm, we expect their “Hajj moment”, their entrance into the faith, to mark the abandonment of every concern and struggle they had in their “pre-Islamic” life. “You’re Muslim now, there is no longer racism. We are all brothers. You can forget about the other causes now.”  That may not be exactly what we say, but it’s what we mean.

It is this idealization of Muslims that causes us to be blinded to the evident racism both in and outside the community, as well as the real social problems on our very doorstep living in America. Many an African-American Muslim has heard the critique from their Christian counterparts: “You moved from the back of the bus to the back of the mosque.” Yes, this phenomenon is a product of racism, but it also stems from the immigrant Muslim communities’ overall failure to learn from the struggles and culture of those who convert. The thinking essentially is: We were always Muslim. These are the issues that really matter to our tribe of Islam, adopt our cultural identity and narrative to replace your own, and forget everything else. It’s not just racism, it’s our feeling of religious superiority and authenticity, a type of intra-Muslim exceptionalism based on our own cultural standards rather than the overarching Divine message.

This reality on the ground in our communities will always then be fodder for both critics and non-Muslim supporters of Malcolm himself. As powerful as his Hajj account may be for Muslims, skeptics have always called into question the real meaning of his post-Hajj conclusions about race. In 1967, Reverend Albert Cleage went so far as to state that Malcolm could not have been duped by the “window dressing” at Hajj, noting the reality of racism and slavery in the Middle East.4 Others posited that the Autobiographyintentionally idealized the Hajj as a form of religious propaganda. Even some of Malcolm’s own followers questioned his new conclusions about race relations that were reflected in the letters he wrote while abroad.

Was his experience on Hajj not entirely “real” because racism exists in the Muslim world, or could they simply not believe that this type of brotherhood could exist at all, regardless of religious affiliation?

Muslims would argue the emotions and insights experienced by Malcolm were in fact undoubtedly real, based on their own personal experiences, yet this does not negate the fact that racism exists in the Muslim community. When we are in congregational prayer or performing the rites of Hajj alongside people of different colors and cultures, there isreal brotherhood—within that act of ritual worship. This is evident by the fact that the thoughts about these differences between us are absent in our minds as we perform these acts. Even a racist Muslim would not likely be bothered by or even consider the race of the worshiper in close contact with him as he performs his prayer. That these conscious feelings are removed in this ibadah, no matter how brief this may be, is the mercy and beauty that God has blessed the community of Muhammad ﷺ in these rites of congregational worship. We do not pray in parallel, we are connected, at the very least temporarily, as human beings together in worship of Allah alone.

The degree by which we inculcate the universal message of Islam and demonstrate our taqwa (God-consciousness) to the Creator depends on how much we strive to extend that feeling of brotherhood beyond these acts of ritual worship. Malcolm was blessed with the insight to see that this could be extended beyond worship, that Islam could solve the race problem, if Islam was truly practiced as it was intended to be by God and His Messenger ﷺ.

That was, and is, his lasting challenge to the American Muslim community, fifty years later. Making the brotherhood a reality requires that we truly learn about the issues and struggles unique to the life experiences of both our co-religionists from different backgrounds and our neighbors of other faiths. For converts, it means appreciating and learning from the positive elements of their life prior to their testimony of faith. When Hakim ibn Hizam (may Allah be pleased with him), who lived for 60 years prior to accepting Islam, asked the Prophet ﷺ what would happen to his prior good deeds, which notably included maintaining good relations with others, charity and freeing slaves, the Prophet replied, “You embraced Islam with all the good deeds which you did in the past”.5 His very acceptance of Islam, in fact, was the result of the good he had done previously, and he would be rewarded for both.

How then could we ever expect someone to leave or diminish a struggle for which the gift of Islam was its reward? Indeed, it should be the reverse; we must embrace that struggle not only to serve the obligation of justice Islam mandates on us, but to share in the blessings and spiritual gifts from that struggle. Moreover, the Prophet ﷺ made it a point to indicate that he would still fulfill the pledge of Hilf-ul-Fudul, an agreement safeguarding the safety and security of people by the Quraysh before his Prophethood. Good causes remain good causes, regardless of the parties involved, and we must not be reticent to work with anyone. Like Malcolm’s OAAU, we don’t need to require Muslim membership to collaborate.

Our goal must be to actively seek out and support whatever benefits people on the ground, rather than passively react to an endlessly negative news cycle that only serves to paralyze and distract us from the greater good. If those causes happens to benefit Muslims, that is a blessing, but it is never the intent. “And no one has in his mind no favor from anyone for which a reward is expected in return, except the seeking of the pleasure of his Lord, the most High” (The Qur’an, Al-Layl: 19-20). We are only the best community when we enjoin what is just for the sake of God alone, not for the sake of appearances or secondary motives. As Malcolm taught us that is the only way we can cure ourselves of the deeply entrenched cancer of racism. The struggle has to be our own and emanate from pure hearts that implore God to remove this disease and make us beacons of light in the world, so that the spirit of Hajj permeates all our relationships. To strive for anything less would be window dressing Islam.

Dying in America by Elizabeth Y. Hanson

Dying in America

 

I’m taking the liberty of digressing from the topic of education to share my thoughts on a situation that has consumed every day of my life for the past seven weeks. I wrote this about a month ago, and though some of the circumstances have changed, the trajectory remains the same.

Dying in America

We brought my father home from the hospital two weeks ago, so he could die in peace. I’m told once the death rattle comes it’s a matter of hours and possibly even a few days. My father has had the death rattle several times and then it goes away. We have had more than one deathbed scene where all the cars pull up, everyone runs into his room to stand by his side; we are circled around his bed and we think he is going to take his last breath, but he doesn’t. He bounces back and asks for something to drink or to get out of bed. I feel like I’ve said goodbye to him at least five times. My father has an iron will and though, according to medical expectations, he should have been long gone by now, he still carries on.

The grandchildren have reacted in different ways. One, in particular, Ibrahim, stays by his bedside when he visits and holds his hand, giving my dad great comfort. Another, my son, Omar, has his daily bounce into the room where he bolts out, “Grandpa, how are you?” I think my dad feels somewhat relieved that, at least where this kid is concerned, nothing has changed. A young grandson, Matteo, was afraid to see him, but he has since gotten used to the idea that Grandpa is dying. Now he acts as his advocate. If Grandpa wants something that may not be possible, like getting out of bed when he seems like he is about to take his last breath, he tells us we should honor his last wish. He’s right. Sometimes children see things so clearly.

We are so divorced from death in our culture, and while I’ve been aware of this for a long time (who isn’t?) I’m just now beginning to realize the extent of the denial of death. Death is something we fear, something we protect our children from, something we keep behind closed hospital doors.

My father begged us to get him out of the hospital, so my brother and his wife kindly prepared their guest room and to their home he went. He was convinced they would kill him in the hospital (they nearly did, twice), and we certainly didn’t want him to take his last breath there. But what a racket— the business of dying in America. There is a lot of money to be made by keeping people alive beyond their time, by reducing them to nursing home status, by over-drugging them so they miss the experience of the greatest event of their lives. Have I mentioned the corporate (funerary) exploit of assisting the dead to their final resting place?

The closest thing to death, as far as I can see, is birth. There are the emotional preparations, the labor pains, and the arbitrary timings that no one can predict. There are the endless phone calls from anxious family and friends: “Has the baby been born yet?” It isn’t any different with dying. Rather than phone calls, now there are usually text messages from concerned family and friends inquiring, “How is he?” I struggle to reply because the logical response would be, “He hasn’t died yet,” but we have a lot of niceties around dying and death and though it’s fine to say, “The baby hasn’t been born yet,” it’s socially unacceptable to be straightforward when it comes to dying. “He’s declining,” is about as direct as we’re allowed to be.

I appreciate the people who only ask after my wellbeing. My reply is fairly standard, “I’m hanging in there” I tell them.  I am, by a very thin string. But there have been days when that string has broken, and I’ve come crashing down.

The pains that accompany death are also very similar to birth pains; the unendurable pain that helps you let go of this world and all that you love. But in the hospital, pain is to be avoided at all cost. Instead, they hook you up to morphine, which hastens the whole affair, just like they administer epidurals to numb the pain, or induce labor with Oxytocin to force the baby out before it’s time. Of course, many times medication is needed, but sometimes it’s nothing more than a convenience and the benefits just don’t outweigh the harm.

In the hospital, they gave my father morphine and I saw him enter a stupor. For 12 hours I kept telling the nurses something was wrong and demanded to see the doctor. They kept insisting this was normal. Finally, threatening to pull the line myself, they removed it and he slowly regained his consciousness. Now, we limit his morphine to those moments when he asks for it, the moments when we try to do everything we can to make him comfortable and he still isn’t comfortable. Sometimes he has morphine at night and sometimes he doesn’t have it for days. My father never took drugs, and he prefers not to take them now. What priceless moments we have with him because he is lucid and present, that is when he’s not sleeping. He sleeps a lot now.

Then there is the task of preparing oneself for the inevitable moment of truth we must all face. I was against telling my father his condition was hopeless, but my siblings decided to tell him. I believe that people come to this realization in their own time. Who can be slowly dying and not know it? I liken it to a woman who knows her husband is having an affair. When it is finally out in the open the woman always says she knew all along, she just could not allow herself to accept it until she was ready to. Someone had stolen her husband’s affection like death steals our lives. We accept the realization when we are prepared to accept it; it isn’t something that should be hastened for us. When the reality is imposed it becomes its own death sentence. “You have two weeks to live,” the doctor pronounces, and the person is dead the next morning. I have heard this story, first-hand, too many times. My father’s will is slowly slipping away, an iron will that for 89 years was indomitable.

One day, when we thought the end was close, we had to make preparations to bury my father. We found a beautiful cemetery that was near the ocean–my father loves the ocean–so we were happy to find such a place of repose for him. But the plots in the section we wanted were sold. Miraculously, through a family connection we were able to buy one from a third party. My father despises the corporate takeover of common decency and so do his children. Our father’s burial will not be a corporate affair, if we can avoid it. Did I tell you that one cemetery offered us a discounted price for a plot if we bought it before my father passed?

We don’t want our father lingering in a cold morgue for days, alone, and then have him transported to the cemetery by perfect strangers. So, when the time comes, if all goes as planned, we will wash his body at home and transport it ourselves. This requires a transportation permit and, of course, a death certificate. These documents the funeral home usually takes care of, but they won’t help you if you don’t take their full service. I called around to different funeral homes until I found a kind gentleman named Rodney, in the next town, who was willing to help me. When it came time for payment, he wouldn’t accept anything from me. Who would have thought a sales rep in a funeral home would be the one to remind me, throughout all this business, that there are still good people out there?

My father defied all odds in living, at least according to current medical research. He had an Irish temper, so calm was not always the name of the game; he ate lots of meat and potatoes and refused to eat anything green, and he seldom exercised after the age of 60. As he defied all odds in living he is defying all odds in dying and he looks beautiful doing it. It has been healing to sit by his side, day after day, and share these last days with him, not hooked up to tubes and not being constantly bothered by health care professionals who have to follow routines for a “one-size-fits-all” exit. My father is leaving according to his own wishes, in his own time. He is surrounded by family and friends, and there is a profound awareness of the dying process that hospice care has made possible. It’s a natural way to go and it’s an unforgettable lesson in caring and kindness and dying that benefits every child who witnesses.

One of my father’s favorite poems was Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost. He was particularly fond of the line, “Whose woods these are, I think I know.” It was the “I think” that stood out for him. The sleep usually comes before we’ve reached our destinations, at least as we planned them. In my father’s case, he was in the middle of writing a book about the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and about locating the manuscripts’ whereabouts, which he believes are buried in Oak Island off Nova Scotia. I was looking forward to reading his book; now, I will do my best to finish it for him.

Prologue

My father passed away at 8:00pm last night, thirty minutes after I finished working on this. He was a brilliant man with a heart of gold, and God generously gave him the best of endings. May you rest in Peace, dear Father.

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