Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Still, I Rise: Reflections on the Massacres in Egypt

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
"By the sky containing great stars. And by the Promised Day. And [by] the witness and what is witnessed, Woe to the makers of the pit (of fire)! Fire supplied (abundantly) with fuel: When they were sitting near it. And they witnessed (all) that they were doing against the Believers. And they ill-treated them for no other reason than that they believed in Allah, Exalted in Power, Worthy of all Praise!- Him to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth! And Allah is Witness to all things.
Indeed, those who have tortured the believing men and believing women and then have not repented will have the punishment of Hell; they will have the punishment of the Burning Fire.
Lo! those who believe and do good works, theirs will be Gardens underneath which rivers flow. That is the Great Success.
Truly strong is the Grip (and Power) of thy Lord. It is He Who creates from the very beginning, and He can restore (life). And He is the Oft-Forgiving, Full of Loving-Kindness, Lord of the Throne of Glory, Effecter of what He intends. Has the story reached thee, of the forces- Of Pharaoh and the Thamud? Nay, but those who disbelieve live in denial. But Allah doth encompass them from behind!" 
(Surah Burooj: Chapter 58)
Hope is a stubborn thing. From the blood and gore, the spine-chilling images of charred bodies clinging to the pages of the Quran, there still rises hope.
History's verdict is unforgiving. Pages of history are reddened with massacres, genocide, killing of innocents: but at the end of the day what matters is whose side we were on, or whether we chose to be passive bystanders in a time of crisis.
Echoes from Egypt shall ring on for a long time to come, the images shall remain etched in memories. And the lessons we learn shall endure, reshaping our narrative, our destinies.
And that is the most crucial point: the lessons we learn. For one, the events in Egypt have exposed the hypocrisy of the secular-liberal elite that has proven itself to be a bedfellow of the military junta, the ruling oligarchies. We have all learned the terrifying truth, as Peter Galey puts it, that
"many would rather see a military junta rule with impunity and autocracy than see a democratic administration govern with fecklessness and error. Many people who call themselves revolutionaries and advocates of democracy simply hate Islamism more than they love freedom. That people are fully prepared to welcome the army back to political life, with a cheer, two fingers up to those killed since 2011, and a good riddance to Egypt’s first experiment with democracy.” There is hope for the future of political Islam as the terrible events necessitate a soul-search, reflection and engagement with the daunting socio-political issues and realities we face. Such a soul-search took a long time in coming, but it will help us make vital conclusions for steering the course of the journey.
The more simplistic and superficially drawn lesson will be to abandon democratic process- but it will not hold because the victim for whom sympathy is understandably high, was committed to democratic process; while the brutal perpetrators subverted the democratic process- even though the rhetoric of democracy was shamelessly used for the purpose. Only a very superficial understanding would consider this to be the death-knell for Islam's democratic experiment.
But to ensure the right lessons are learned, Muslim scholars, writers, academics and ulema have a crucial role to play: to rescue the narrative from those who would use it for subversive ends calling for rejecting the democratic project.
Muslim scholarship must also recognize, following the events in Egypt, Syria, Bangladesh, Pakistan- the terrible danger of schisms and ideological polarization within Muslim societies- the widening rift between the secular and the religious, the cleavages of sect, denomination, ethnicity, nationalism. Understanding the gravity of this danger, they must become active agents of reconciliation- mending the cracks and helping the healing process by empowering the voices of 'middleness' that refuse to take sides, except as supporters and advocates for the sinned-against, the sufferers, the anonymous victim.

It is heartening to see the black-n-yellow image signifying solidarity with the victims of the Rabia massacre going viral on facebook profiles. It is in our capacity for empathy that our humanity lies. The symbolism of it is remarkably suggestive and layered, too: with the resistance bearing the name of a Muslim woman (Rabia Al Adawiyyah). It has in it the makings of a fresh and brand new Muslim feminism articulated as a response to the savage use of chauvinistic power: military and political.  The fact that Rabia Al Adawiyyah was an icon of Islamic spirituality- a tradition ignored and eclipsed as we embroiled ourselves in the battle for temporal power- is significant too. Salvation lies in rediscovering and reviving that spiritual tradition- not as a clever antidote to the socio-political struggle; not as a ploy to neutralize, but as a means to return the soul to that struggle; to inspire and revitalize and direct the course; and render that struggle meaningful.
Blood has been shed- but not in vain, inshaAllah. It must water the springtime- which may not reach its blossoming in our lifetimes, but we must sow the seeds and water it with sacred blood and tears. We must stand on the right side of history, realizing that we owe this to the future. Or we shall never be forgiven as History pens down its verdict in eternal stone.
"You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I'll rise."
Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I'll rise.
Out of the huts of history's shame I rise Up from a past that's rooted in pain I rise I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope... I rise I rise I rise." (Maya Angelou: Still I Rise)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

''And they made not a just estimate of Allah..." (39:67): Reflections

 In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
‘They made not a just estimate of Allah such as is due to Him.’ (39:67)

The man whispered ‘God, speak to me!’ 

And a meadowlark sang. 
But the man did not hear. 
So the man yelled ‘God speak to me!’ 
And the thunder rolled across the sky. 
But the man did not listen. 
The man looked around and said ‘God let me see you’ 
And a star shone brightly. 
But the man did not notice. 
And the man shouted ‘God show me a miracle’ 
And a life was born. 
But the man did not know. 
So, the man cried out in despair.
‘Touch me God and let me know that you are here!’ 
Whereupon a butterfly brushed past him. 
But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.
This very often quoted anonymous piece of writing illustrates how man turns away from the ayaat (signs) of Allah in the universe, is ungrateful for the innumerable blessings that encompass us, unmindful of the grace, bounty and glory of Allah that pervade and animate the universe.
The verse hits home hard- the Lord of the universe laments over how man has debased himself by not giving to his Creator what he owes Him: the exclusive devotion, adoration, self-surrender that was due only to Him, and through which man discovers and lives out his own true potential.
In surah Yasin in a similar vein Allah says,
‘Ya hasratan ilal ibaad!’ (Alas for mankind),
that they wronged themselves by refusing to acknowledge the One they owe their existence to, who calls to Sakeenah (restful Peace, Godliness) through His love; who calls to the Truth that sets us free from bondage to falsehood, deception and evil.
Man has been ennobled by Allah through the ‘Ruh’ He breathed into the human nafs from His own spirit. Humanity is a gift bestowed by Allah through the crowning glory of divinely inspired 'Ilm' (knowledge) and the nobility of the ‘fitrah’ (nature) on which man has been created.
‘Verily, We have honoured the sons of Adam…’ (17:70) 
‘Verily, We did offer the trust to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up – verily, he has been prone to be most wicked, most foolish.’ (33:72)
Faith in God is a transforming force that makes one transcend above and beyond the confines of the here and now; it raises above the personal, selfish, temporal, material and physical that holds us down to an ephemeral level of existence, caged in the id, embroiled in the pursuit of short-term self-gratifying goals.
Faith makes selflessness possible. It makes forbearance, patience, forgiveness and undaunted courage possible. It makes a deep inner tranquility possible regardless of external circumstance. This inward peace enables the faithful individual to radiate peace around him. It enables one to
‘find the best in others. To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Faith makes possible deeds larger than life, motivated by that mysterious magical thing called love for God which has over millennia driven people to live meaningfully, act nobly and altruistically with an incredible spiritual largesse; which has over history made human beings capable of the most superhumanly heroic deeds for no selfish, worldly, material purpose. It has made faith-driven human beings live meaningful, beautiful lives that have left ‘footsteps in the sands of time…’
Lives of great men all remind us 
  We can make our lives sublime, 
And, departing, leave behind us 
  Footprints on the sands of time; 
Footprints, that perhaps another, 
  Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, 
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
  Seeing, shall take heart again. 
Let us, then, be up and doing, 
  With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving, still pursuing, 
  Learn to labor and to wait.
(Henry Longfellow)
Faith in God has made immortality attainable to the mortal being of man; has made permanence possible through evanescence; it has healed and purged and elevated and delivered. Yet so many, as the verse says, have failed to recognize the sublime beauty and power of faith in God, recklessly turning away from it, bedazzled by the pomp and show of the transient life of this world.

Very broadly, there are two ways in which man fails to make a just estimate of faith in Allah. Man either carelessly disregards the meaning and value of the Divine in his life out of forgetfulness and the lure of the material world; or he distorts, abuses and exploits the faith he verbally professes in the most vile and heinous ways for his own ends.

Crime, war, racism, slavery, conquest, imperialism, colonialism, nationalism, capitalistic exploitation, environmental degradation have all been impelled by lust for worldly benefit, temporal power and material gain- all of which are corollaries of faithlessness and distancing from the Divine.Great crimes and injustices have also been committed in the Name of God, out of an odious sense of being holier than thou by the self-righteous who wittingly or unwittingly sin against God when they use His name for ignoble, unworthy ends. This is contemporary Islam’s greatest challenge. Khalid Abou El Fadl writes,
‘the worst injustice, and the one most worthy of Muslim outrage, is that committed by Muslims in the name of Islam, because that is more deprecating to God than any supposed heresy or legal infraction.’ 
Man disparages the meaning of the Divine by his own heedlessness and misdeeds. He sells off his faith for paltry gains and sins against his Loving Maker from Whom he came and to Whom he is bound to return. But in so doing, the greatest harm comes to his own self, against his own God-given nafs… only that he does not recognize it. And the undimmed everlasting Glory of Allah abides and endures forevermore:
‘God will requite them for their mockery, and will leave them for a while in their overweening arrogance, blindly stumbling to and fro.’ (2:15)
‘They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.’ (61:8)