Freedom of Speech, etc.

After seeing a headline in a local community newspaper this afternoon, it suddenly struck me why Muslims, in their current approach, will always be on the defensive when debating issues of freedom of speech or expression. The headline read something like, ‘Freedom of Speech, or Freedom to Blaspheme’. It was that last word that caught my attention.

You see, when we accuse someone of blasphemy, there seems to be an underlying assumption that they hold dear what we hold dear. Or at the least, they respect what we respect. For this reason, we will forever be mocked by the irreverent few that take much pride and joy in mocking us. Why? I think it’s actually quite simple. We’re so drawn into defending and protecting the rituals of Islam, that we’ve failed dismally to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt why we proclaim Islam to be so beautiful, and worthy of respect.

If I look around and see how entertainers garner respect even by people that do not normally take to such forms of entertainment, I notice that what is usually accompanied by such respect is an appreciation for the effort and skill that goes into that art form that is presented as entertainment. Hardly seems like a worthy comparison considering the mainstream Muslim views on entertainment, but bear with me. Note, I said Muslim views, not Islamic views, which is an inherent part of this problem. We’ve become so obsessed with point-in-time interpretations about what Islam stood for or represented during an era many centuries ago, that we’ve given up the principles that those wise scholars extrapolated their rulings from, and instead turned their guidance into ritualistic observations subscribed to by sects.

How does this play into the hands of those that criticise Muslims for their supposed intolerance, or as some would like to believe, their bronze-aged-myths? Again, it’s really simple. When you become a ritualist, expect it to lead you down the path towards blind following. When you become a blind follower, it’s inevitable that intolerance will set in when others fail to see the merits of your rituals, especially when you’re incapable of explaining the principles and real-world value from such rituals. And that is the problem with most Muslims. They fail to see this connection. Look at the mobs and the out-of-hand protests that violate the very same principles and direct injunction of the same way of life, including the blessed personality that they profess to be defending and it’s easy to see how lost we are as an Ummah.

Fortunately there are an increasing number of informed voices of a youth that appear to be inspired by the truth as they experience it, and as they can rationalise it based on a clear understanding and study of the most pristine sources of Islam that are speaking out against this ignorance. There are many difficult debates to still be had, but the fact that the aloofness of the present-day scholars is now being openly questioned instead of being blindly venerated is a clear sign that we’re finally emerging from the slump of cult-ish behaviour that we’ve immersed ourselves into from fear of getting things wrong.

So freedom of speech, according to its present-day practice, is very likely, and somewhat justifiably, going to be exercised in a manner that can be deemed blasphemous by many. However, they can only successfully ridicule that which we hold sacred if we conduct ourselves in a manner that feeds such ridicule. There will always be irreverent idiots out there that despite the most convincing arguments, will always arrogantly hold fast to their ideologies that justify such condescension and ridicule even where none is justified, but the irony is that they are in fact a reflection of the behaviour of many Muslims today, just with the absence of faith in Allah. Perhaps when those mainstream Muslims realise this, they may just allow themselves an opportunity to think, rationalise, and appreciate the true beauty of what Islam offers them, rather than just stubbornly observing rituals without any consideration or understanding for its intended purpose.

I could continue for hours on end discussing the contradictions between what Muslim claim to stand for these days, versus what their actions reveal, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The fact that we’re fair game for ridicule these days proves this point sufficiently.

A Rant About The Petty Impotence of Muslims

We had an interesting incident at work today. It was related to a new prayer facility that we managed to obtain from the company in recent months. The pettiness and irrationality of today’s incident made it clear why the Ummah is in the state that it’s in. This might sound overly dramatic, or it might even sound petty in its own right, but the underlying principles struck me as exceptionally concerning because of the way it plays out in much greater issues than what took place today.

The incident involved the installation of carpets in our new facility. The carpets are specifically designed for mosques, so it has patterns that guide the rows that we stand in to perform salaah. The fact that there is real cause for concern regarding the direction that the carpets face relative to what was previously agreed to be the direction of the qibla is a separate issue. However, in the installation of the carpets, the project manager forgot to set aside a section at the entrance to the room to be tiled so that we could enter the room before removing our shoes. As a result, the practice for the last couple of weeks was to remove our shoes outside the room in the common use area which is a high traffic corridor shared by all employees, and then step into the room with shoes in hand to be placed in the provided shoe racks.

Last week we agreed to place down a strip of tape to demarcate the salaah area from the entrance to the room so that it was easy to determine which area could be stepped on with shoes, and which not. After salaah today the changes were announced. I later received an email advising me that some ‘brothers’ took exception to this common sense approach. They apparently didn’t feel it was right to step on the carpeted area inside the door because it was a single piece with the area that we performed salaah in. Is it just me, or is this seriously ridiculous logic?

So I asked what the basis for such a decision was, since I’m quite certain that it has absolutely no basis in the Sunnah and in fact inconveniences the Muslims that wish to use the facility, and I was told that it would just make it easier for those that were using the facility, so we should just accept it. Makes it easier? Really? According to some nameless/faceless ‘brothers’?

The underlying principles that I complained about at the beginning of this post relates to the willingness to give way to common sense in the enforcement of petty personal preferences. It has a distinct undertone of extremism that has no basis in Islam, and cannot be justified in any reasonable manner. But we’re loathe to object because of our need to pacify those that hold sway, rather than speak out against such pettiness.

This same inclination to give in to personal preferences over what is specifically allowed or forbidden in Islam is exactly the source for so many contaminants of culture that have soiled the simplicity of Islam. I wondered about the precedent already set in almost every other mosque where a single piece of carpet extends between the official boundary of the mosque and what is deemed to be the outside of the mosque for purposes of i’tikaaf, and it simply caused me to struggle even more with the ridiculous logic being subscribed to in this instance.

This must seem really petty, but it’s the pettiness of it that seems to carry the theme of the Ummah these days. We’ll strike out in full fury to defend the honour of Rasulullah (SAW) when some idiot makes a second rate movie that received almost no attention prior to our mob-like behaviour, but remain silent when innocent Muslim men and women are assaulted, harassed, murdered, abused, raped, molested, mutilated and worse. Is it because we’re incapable of behaving honourably, that we find it necessary to seek honour in defending something in a manner that is not even sanctioned in Islam? It’s this same mindset that has created suicide bombers and indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians including women and children and the elderly, simply because this same irrational logic that we allow to perpetuate in the Ummah is used to justify our actions where cowardly acts are easier to enforce than having a backbone and taking a principled and bold stand against the injustices that we profess to want to avenge.

Muslims have earned the scorn and contempt of the disbelievers, most definitely not because Islam is prone to attracting such vile criticism, but simply because we’ve become petty and impotent to the point of having inane debates about simple logic and sectarian bull, while pretending to be defenceless when faced with the responsibility of protecting the honour and dignity of those we are responsible for.

On Atheists, Cartoons, And Muslim Mobs

There is nothing so bad that there is no good in it. This has proven to be true in every challenge or struggle I’ve ever experienced in my life. Most recently it has once again proven true in my engagements with a group of atheists on Facebook. I’m constantly cautioned by those around me that engaging with them is a futile exercise and will only create doubts in my own mind about what I believe to be true. I respectfully disagree.

By engaging with these atheists, I am forced to rationalise my beliefs, my faith, my subscription to a set of laws that have proven to transcend specific periods of time, and in this there is much to be gained. It confirms that man-made laws have to constantly be adapted to cater for the changes in society, but laws based on sound principles are applicable at every stage of human development.

Muslims generally avoid taking a critical view of Islam because of the fear-mongering Imams that discourage such questioning. If you believe in something blindly, can that really be called faith or iman? Assuming that it can be considered as iman, how is blind belief ever going to strengthen that iman? Will that iman not then stifle and be fragile the moment it is challenged rationally by one that does not hold Islam in such high regard? Isn’t it then true that by not rationalising or clarifying your beliefs or at least trying to understand the logic behind the Islamic injunctions, you’re actually exposing yourself to a greater risk of misguidance or deviation, let alone the risk of being ‘convinced’ that your belief system is not credible, thereby resulting in you either holding on because of the fear of letting go, rather than holding on because you actually believe? Worse still, doesn’t it then expose you to the very real possibility of having that iman stripped away from you because of doubts that others could sow in your heart?

I strongly oppose the views of many that suggest that we must simply do and not question. How we question is the critical differentiator. But that we must question is unquestionable. That we must understand is undeniable. Yet we have mobs of Muslims running through the streets destroying private property in their display of outrage in defence of the image of Rasulullah (SAW) whilst at the same time being oblivious to the fact that Rasulullah (SAW) himself or his companions never responded in such a despicable or barbaric manner when the very person of our beloved prophet was directly and infinitely more abused and attacked by the disbelievers in Mecca and Taif and so many other incidents. When the entrails of a goat was thrown on Rasulullah (SAW) he didn’t pronounce the death sentence over those that did it. When he was stoned out of Taif and had the opportunity to have the entire town destroyed, he made dua for them to be guided and didn’t rally the companions into mobs to harass or destroy the property of anyone that got in the way of their ‘protest’.

This dignity and patience is absent in the mobs that profess to be protesting in the name of defending the honour of Islam and the Prophet (SAW). All they’re doing is revealing their barbaric tendencies and ignorance of the true values that Islam inculcates in us. I still maintain that the Muslims are directly responsible for the tarnished image of Islam today. If we conducted ourselves with integrity and dignity in line with Islamic principles, we would be above the reproach that is being levelled against us, because it would have been easy for the layman atheist to even determine that any such unfounded criticism against us is exactly that, unfounded.

It’s time to stop blaming cartoonists and pathetic attempts at sensationalism for the attack on Islam, and start looking inwardly at our own communities and personal behaviour that maligns the honour of the Prophet (SAW) much more than any despicable cartoon or video could ever do.

In Need of a Label

Sometimes I feel inclined to succumb to the labelling that makes others feel more comfortable to be with me or around me. Perhaps I should be the stereotype that is expected of me, and assume the position of vulnerability and neediness that would make others feel more significant around me. Labels, stigmas, stereotypes and the like repulse me. It forces me into a pigeon hole and makes me feel smothered and claustrophobic.

It’s seemingly easier for me to deal with others that don’t fit the mould than it is for others to deal with me. I don’t tow the line when I’m expected to, and I don’t reserve opinion when it would be proper or polite. Instead, at this ripe old age, I still fail to realise that sincerity is not what is being sought, but rather affirmation. Saying the right thing at the wrong time has probably gotten more people in trouble than anything else.

Such is the double standards of being human. We choose to see others through our insecurities and then lash out when they respond in a way that exposes it. I’m probably a prick of a human being because I don’t see fit to play along out of obligation when needed to do so. I assume that others are as passionate about the truth, sincerity and transparency as I am, and I’ll repeat that as many times as is needed despite knowing how arrogant it must sound.

Proclaiming not to be arrogant isn’t the same as professing to be humble, which as they say is arrogance in itself. The absence of arrogance is not necessarily humility, nor is the absence of humility arrogance. Both are in fact perspectives that others hold of us which most often would not be true because it’s easier for me to dismiss someone else as being arrogant instead of accepting that I may have failed to engage meaningfully or explained myself sufficiently. This doesn’t excuse the behaviour of those that are inconsiderate morons who assume that the world revolves around them, although having said that, I get the nagging feeling that I just contradicted myself.

This is a pointless ramble.

Catharsis

akhirah:

SubhanAllah, I had a moment at the masjid today that hurt me, but the lesson from it was liberating.

After tarawih I was speaking to a good friend & another acquaintance  of mine when another woman I know came and hugged both of my friends and turned away from me. I refrained from judging the situation too quickly, however the circumstance just stunk of the cliquish attitudes that people adopt. My face fell and I tried not to be offended that this woman was purposefully ignoring my existence yet standing in front of me talking to the people I was just speaking to. I continued to listen to the conversation and nodded my head, feeling a bit embarrassed and not sure why. Finally, I said salaams to all of them and left the masjid, wondering what I could have done to make this woman dislike me. As I pondered it over, it occurred to me that I was blaming myself for this possible error of judgment or this woman’s problem with me, when I was given no inclination as to how I could fix it. 

It became clear to me that we can blame ourselves so much for how people treat us, but it can sometimes be people who exact the worst kind of revenge: the one where they don’t tell you what is wrong or why they have a problem with you. Then you live in ‘community x’ dealing with people ‘y’ who may consistently give you a negative attitude without ever speaking to you like a decent human being. This situation is juvenile and immature, but I’m afraid it’s all too common in our ummah. At the heart of it, it’s a lack of adab across the board that eats away at the potential we have to be a family, a big huge Muslim family. So many little issues amount to widespread negativity… 

People afraid to say salaams to others, but stalking the hell out of their facebooks or twitters. 

People standing shoulder to shoulder to Tarawih, but stepping on each other’s feet to get the free kulfi at the masjid dinner.

People engaging in the culture/color wars over what country you’re from and what color you are.

Or worst of all, entering a masjid full of unsmiling faces, just because they don’t know you personally. I feel hurt the most for the visitors who, looking for warmth & unity, find nothing but hostility or even worse: silence. 

So what do you do?

Do you sit around and become bitter? Do you accept that people hold grudges in their heart?

No, you free yourself from it all.

How?

Be that person you’ve been looking for all this time. No matter what.

-Smile at every single person you see & give them that beautiful salutation of As Salaamu Alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

-If someone doesn’t treat you right, show them how it’s done and treat them right. Ask Allah to correct their behavior and if the opportunity avails itself, remind them gently.

-Look for someone to help and help them with a humble attitude and no expectation for anything in return.

At the end of the day, you have the potential to promote positive change by leading by example. Take that opportunity and be good with reckless abandon, throwing your smiles at people and helping everyone without hesitation. If you’re already a beacon of light, keep it up my friend. If not, let yourself shine and follow the example of the most merciful human being to ever walk this Earth, Muhammad sallallahu alayhi was’sallam. 

SubhanAllah, what a beautiful example. The prophet was a man who would treat everyone he met with such deep compassion and care that they would think that they were the most important person in the room when he, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam spoke to them. 

His enemies became Muslim when they witnessed his beautiful akhlaaq and yet we, who call ourselves Muslim reject our own and lose each other in negativity. 

Wherever you are, if you are reading this, plead sincerely with our Lord to fortify us as one and bless us with harmony, in the smallest as well as the largest of gatherings. 

Finally, I’m soothed most by one thing in particular:

no matter how badly someone may hurt you or reject your good will, it was never for them anyway.

I wish I could say that I never experienced the above type of behaviour from Muslims as well. It’s a shame really. Vying for attention at the expense of our humility and sincerity.

Dua: To Pray Quietly

The proper way to make du’a is in a subdued voice, as Allah tells us:

“Call upon your Lord with humility, and in secret.” (Surah al-A’raf:55)

This is why Allah praised the du’a of Zakaraiya when He described it as being secret:

“When he made a du’a to his Lord in secret (or privately).” (Surah Maryam:3)

This principle is also mentioned in hadith. The Prophet peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

“O people! Be gentle on yourselves, for you are not calling someone who is deaf or absent. Rather you are calling the One Who hears everything, Ever-Close.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari)

Shaykh al-Islam ibn Taymiyyah, also mentioned a number of benefits of making du’a silently in his work Majmu al-Fatawa which are as follows:

  1. It is a sign of strong imaan, as it demonstrates that we firmly believe Allah can hear even the quietest of prayers.
  2. It is a sign of respect and manners in front of Allah, for us to lower our voices.
  3. It is a sign of humility and humbleness, which is the essence of worship.
  4. It is a means of achieving sincerity, since you will not draw the attention of others.
  5. It aids the heart on concentrating on the du’a.
  6. It shows a closeness that the true believer feels for their Creator, and is a means of strengthening the close relationship between ourselves and Allah.
  7. It is easier on the tongue and body and therefore aids us in extending our du’a to Allah.
  8. It causes less distraction to others.
  9. It prevents a person form the the target of envy and jealousy.