June 18, 2013
Words by a friend who passed away a couple days ago, she wrote this at the beginning of the new year. If only we all knew the year we would pass away. Make the most of your time here. Life is such.
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
June 10, 2013
How much more can I take?
This question has been at the root of the human experience for as long as we have been able to record it, if not longer. It was the lament of Job — or at least one of them — and is asked with no less frequency today, in response to circumstances ranging from devastating loss and grief to the typical hardships of a trying job or a long winter.
William James’s ‘sick souls’ were more likely to experience the ‘acute fever’ of religious belief.
But where is that actual point at which a person “breaks” or comes to believe not only that her life is devoid of value or meaning, but that the world is, too? The truth is that most people really do not want to ascertain just how much more they can suffer. A vast majority of people would look askance at someone who really wanted to experiment with her limits for suffering. But what if we are to treat it as a genuine question? In some of my recent work in the area of addiction and philosophy, I’ve found that many active addicts of all sorts confront that limit every day, in ways that those fortunate enough to be free of addiction may never know. For some of them, the process of reaching that limit becomes an opportunity to effect radical transformation of their lives.
A broader understanding of this concept can be found in the work of William James, whose famous work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” provides significant insight about the limits of misery and its transformative potential. “Varieties” is product of lectures James delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 1901 and 1902. His focus is the experiences of individuals “for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but as an acute fever.” By “religion,” James does not mean religious institutions and their long entrenched theological debates, but rather something more akin to an individual spiritual state, which may or may not include belief in a god.
James was uniquely suited to deliver these lectures. He was a physician, philosopher and a psychologist before the field of psychology was part of academe, and someone with a deep, abiding interest in psychic events. He was, in all senses, a student of human nature. He explored this question of what we may call the “misery threshold” because he wanted to know if some people were more capable or more prone to experience “the acute fever” of religious belief. His answer: it is those who suffer most who are inclined to experience that fever. These are the people who fascinated him: those who toed right up to and sometimes over the line of despair and meaninglessness.
James claims in “Varieties” that there are two kinds of people, differentiated from where they live in relation to their misery threshold. Each person, he argued, has a threshold for emotional pain akin to a threshold for physical pain. While some people at the slightest physical pain tend to run to the ibuprofen or painkillers, others seem able to tolerate excruciating physical pain. The same holds for misery.
James calls those who live on the sunnier side of their misery threshold “healthy-minded.” Optimism fills their lives, though there are degrees of optimism. Some of the healthy-minded see the glass half full while others see it as half full with something really delicious. These are the sort of people who always look for the bright side and have a soul with “a sky-blue tint, whose affinities are rather with the flowers and birds and all enchanting innocencies than with dark human passions.” Though the sunny-side people can be miserable at times, they have a low tolerance for misery. It would take something catastrophic for them to stay on the dark side of their misery lines.
The sunny-siders are somewhat interesting to James, if only because they constitute a type that is almost completely foreign to him. James knew himself and many of his family members to belong to the second category — “sick souls” and “divided selves,” who live on the dark side of their misery threshold. Sick souls tend to say No to life, according to James, and are governed by fear. Sick souls tend to become anxious and melancholic, with apprehension that opportunistically spreads.
The person with a divided self suffers from what James calls “world sickness.” This sickness is progressive and James charts its development keenly and compassionately. Those with divided self experience a war within; their lives are “little more than a series of zig zags,” their “spirit wars with their flesh, they wish for incompatibles” and “their lives are one long drama of repentance and of effort to repair misdemeanors and mistakes.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, this is an accurate description of addiction. James knew a great deal about drunkenness or inebriety, to use the language of his time. For years, his brother Robertson (Bob) was in and out of asylums for the inebriate and spent his final years with James and his wife. This may explain why some of the most compelling first person accounts in James’s work of divided selves and sick souls who were later transformed come from people who were drunkards. (This may also explain why Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, was so taken with William James. He was able to see himself in these stories and as a consequence, make sense of his own conversion experience when he sobered up for good in 1934.)
James’s description tracks our knowledge of addiction accordingly. The first stage of world sickness is what I would call “pleasure diminished.” What had previously brought joy or pleasure before now brings it less often and to lesser degrees. For an addict, the buzz just isn’t as much fun. It just isn’t the same yet she will continue to seek it.
“Pleasure destroyed” is the second stage. More and more things are seen as or end in disappointments; pessimism becomes the most frequent response. The pessimism grows though at this point it still attaches to particular situations in life rather than to the whole of life. An addict will take any disappointment as a reason to use. As more things become disappointing, the more a person will understand herself to have reasons to use.
The final stage in this world sickness is best described as “pathological melancholy.” The progression in this final stage is significant. First a person is no longer able to recognize joy and happiness. She experiences a melancholy and dreariness about life that makes her incapable of generating any joy for herself. The next phase is a melancholy in which a person generates an acute anguish about herself and the world. In this stage, a person feels self-loathing and acute anxiety. Her entire being, James would say, is choked with these feelings. Quite significantly, not only does the person see herself as having no meaning or significance, but nothing in the world has meaning. This melancholy leads to a kind of utter hopelessness about the particular conditions in which one lives and the meaning of life in general. With this hopelessness, the drama of repentance and effort to repair will end. It would take too much energy and it just isn’t worth it. Nothing is worth anything.
The person in the grips of the worst melancholy experiences a frightening anxiety about the universe and everything in it. At this point, panic and fright completely govern a person. James describes a man who admitted that a “horrible fear of my own existence,” came upon him one night. The man suddenly remembered an epileptic patient he had seen in an asylum who had greenish skin and sat “like some sort of Egyptian cat or Peruvian mummy, moving nothing but his black eyes and looking absolutely nonhuman. This image and my fear entered a combination with each other. That shape am I, I felt potentially … I awoke morning after morning with a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach, and with a sense of the insecurity of life that I never knew before, and that I have never felt since.” In a letter to a friend after the publication of “Varieties,” James admitted this was his very own experience as a young man. He himself had walked right up to the edge of a yawning abyss. James scholars debate the exact date of this crisis, but most locate it some time when James was in his late 20s.
Read previous contributions to this series.
Nietzsche recognized that “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Kierkegaard realized that some people were more afraid of jumping into that abyss than falling. James understood this fear and saw the potential for transformation “through a passion of renunciation of the self and surrender to the higher power.” It is after this renunciation that one can experience “the acute fever” of a spiritual life.
The terms “surrender” and “higher power” and “powerlessness” are apt to leave some people uneasy (they are key phrases and concepts in 12-step programs everywhere). To surrender, in more Jamesian terms, is to make oneself open to new possibilities. To surrender is to stop clutching core beliefs or parts of one’s identity so tightly. When one loosens her grip, she makes it possible to hold something — perhaps very tentatively — in her hands. In the case of a person whose self worth or humanity has been decimated, it is a matter of being open to the possibility that just maybe she is worthy of a little dignity and respect. Surrendering can be simultaneously liberating and terrifying.
The when, where and how of surrender depends on a person’s misery threshold. Someone with a low threshold cannot suffer long and so is willing to make changes. Others will be able to suffer enormously and not surrender until there is nothing left to lose. Each person’s “rock bottom” is the point where misery can no longer be tolerated.
“Higher power” may leave even more people uneasy. James, however, uses the term in an elastic way. He does admit that “we Christians” call this higher power “God.” But to illustrate what he calls a “higher and friendly power,” James uses Henry David Thoreau’s description of walking in the gentle mist at Walden Pond. Thoreau wrote, “Every little pine-needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.” Higher power can be nature, moral principles, patriotism, or a sense of fellowship or good will to others. For some, higher power is “enthusiasm for humanity.” Each of these, James might say, takes a person outside or beyond herself and connects her to others and thus can be a higher power.
It is easy to identify the ways that “the acute fever” burned in the Christian saints who engaged in all sorts of acts of self-mortification. But it is not easily spotted in someone who has surrendered to and embraced a higher power about their addictive behaviors; there is no equivalent of sack cloth. There is, however, a unification of a previously divided self. People who know addicts in recovery often see this before the addict herself. A person with the acute fever of sobriety or recovery comes to have a firmness of mind and character. She has clear beliefs and principles and acts from them. She also has stability that is achieved and maintained by keeping various relationships with relatives, friends congruent with personal history, commitments, goals and beliefs. Each of these helps to hold the others steady. Finally, a person who burns with the acute fever of sobriety has equilibrium. She is able to strike the balance between opposing forces, some of which are in her control and others not.
No one person will be immune from all suffering. However, the acute fever transforms a person’s life so that the drama, chaos and despair are, as James says, “severed like cobwebs, broken like bubbles.” And this, James would proclaim, shows that hope and redemption are just as much part of the human condition.
June 10, 2013
Though the birth classes my wife and I took last summer while we were expecting our daughter were almost painfully thorough, they did not answer a few pressing questions: What is one to do if the imminent arrival of his first child engenders nothing but fear and dread? If the creation of new life turns his morbid mind to the inexorability of death? If the mere notion of bringing an innocent creature into this malevolently entropic world fills him with an anxiety that is like a persistent, unreachable itch?
The iPad is a perfect nightlight. It is the fatherly reassurance that Freud says we all crave.
Some take drugs, prescribed or not. For others, a stiff drink is a favorite (not to mention traditional) self-medication. Fair enough. But when my own neurons get overheated, I prefer to chill them in the soothing currents of the digital seas.
As a journalist, I can justify my e-obsession by claiming that following Twitter feeds these days more or less passes for original reporting. But even by that measure, I am like a bartender who pours himself a tall one a little too frequently throughout the night. The guy who is never really drunk, but never quite sober.
I don’t want to call it addiction, to trivialize the suffering of alcoholics and compulsive gamblers. It is more like reliance, a psychological craving that will only be satisfied by the calming swipes of my finger across the smooth, shimmering screen of a device.
Thus, as my wife was going into her 10th hour of labor, I was blasting through my Instapaper reading list, making sure I was fully informed about both the future of Syria and hipster mustaches. The next day, the first day of my daughter’s life, I was back on Facebook, wallowing in inanity like a pig in mud.
I am far from alone. Some researchers are pushing for inclusion of Internet Use Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which would effectively make it a mental illness. And a recent article in the Web publication LiveScience noted that “The Web’s unpredictable payoffs train people much in the same way Ivan Pavlov trained dogs, which were conditioned in the 19th century to salivate when they heard a bell they associated with food. Over time, people link a cue (e.g., an instant-message ping or the Facebook homepage) with a pleasurable rush of feel-good brain chemicals.”
The thing is, I love the Internet. I need my gadgets. I don’t want to be cured.
Ever since my own birth, it seems, I have dreaded nightfall and the silence of the evening dark. As an adult, I have been granted some solace. The iPad is a perfect nightlight. It is the fatherly reassurance that Freud says we all crave. Mine comes from a man named Steve.
I push a button and, as the argentine glow washes over my face, my dread begins to recede. The image of an apple appears; it has been bitten and I can not help but think of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. But in a moment the apple disappears, and – lo! – is replaced by salvation: orderly rows of apps, bright columns of faithful soldiers in my own private war against solitude and disorder and oblivion.
The dread is gone.
I am a child again, I regard red notification balloons with excitement; they bring updates and news. I scroll through a slideshow on Buzzfeed — huh, that corgi really does look like Richard Nixon — and check Epicurious for a recipe for vegetarian pasta carbonara, because one day I really would like to make vegetarian carbonara for my wife, and wasn’t there a gift on Amazon I wanted to buy her, and look what’s finally in the Kindle store…
Maybe it is merely distraction, the oft-reported undoing of the focused, sophisticated mind. But I think it is something more. The philosopher Thomas Carlyle once called our planet “a hall of doom” — a diagnosis all too easily confirmed by most days’ news. But the terror that the outside world so frequently engenders can be neutralized — by YouTube videos of dachshund puppies, Facebook updates from “friends” I do not know, Instagrammed chronicles of exotic meals I am too timid to ever try and too cheap to ever pay for, the Twitter wisdom of @KimKierkegaardashian, not to mention that one Tumblr about how dads are the original hipsters. For thrills, I visit places on GoogleEarth that I am unlikely to visit in reality. I go on CollegeConfidential and pretend that I, too, am, deciding between Swarthmore and Cornell. All I am trying to do is turn Carlyle’s hall of doom into someplace more bearable, a digital cocktail lounge with a rotating cast of characters who do not mind being observed and who are always engaging and appropriately loquacious and are never bothered when I choose to go converse with someone else.
I would never claim that we live in a digital utopia. But might we take some comfort in several minutes in my completely unremarkable Facebook news feed: Someone (I don’t know her or how we became friends) has asked fellow users to support a program that allows poor young women in the Bay Area to experience the outdoors; someone else has posted an image of an Emily Dickinson manuscript; a journalist whom I respect has linked to an article about the dangers of generic drugs, appending the post with her own insightful views on the incompetence of the Food and Drug Administration. On Twitter, intelligent people are debating Benghazi, bike lanes and the Miami Heat. On Kickstarter, millenials allegedly weaned on apathy and irony are earnestly trying to save the world.
Read previous contributions to this series.
This pretty much strikes me as the public sphere celebrated by Immanuel Kant as the paragon of enlightened society, updated to fit the requirements of the modern world. It is people using a common language and reason to proffer ideas, promulgate competing causes, agree and disagree, foment and undercut.
To go even further, the digital domain fulfills one of the basic promises of any organized religion: it offers a path to immortality. Paper fades and buildings crumble, but what you leave behind on the Internet is pretty much forever. It is a polytheistic religion, its gods bearing monosyllabic names like Jobs and Gates, Brin and Page. All — well, all who are able to afford it —can enter its exalted domain.
None of this, of course, is easy for my wife. Within three months of my daughter’s birth, a frequent and annoyed call resounded through the apartment: “Can you put the iPad away and play with the baby?” And sometimes, I have learned to shut the thing off and read “Goodnight Moon,” because it is true that man cannot sustain himself on Facebook “likes” alone. But there are other times when, for whatever reason, there is a tightness in my gut and only a few brainless minutes on Gawker will relieve whatever inchoate and irresolvable existential anxiety is its cause.
It could be the birth of my daughter and all it implies that turned my head to such thoughts. But no matter. Because I am certain that there is reason to fear. I take my cue from Pascal, who wrote in his “Pensées,” “When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in an eternity before and after, the little space I fill engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.”
But by the grace of modern technology, I can fill at least some of those infinite spaces with the luminous procession of tweets and shares and updates – all of it inconsequential, all of it wonderful.
March 31, 2013
It is often claimed Islam has no institutionalized authority but if we honestly look at history we can see that there have in fact always been certain ‘centers of authority’. The first khalifs, the Al-Azhar University, the scholars of Damascus, the Ottoman Sultan,… they have all been examples of concentrated authority. Today, however, it seems very difficult to find such centers or to assess the authority of the many different groups, institutions and individuals. Would you say then, that today’s situation is an anomaly in the history of Islam?
March 31, 2013
You are the one whose eyes I saw deep
I am burning, I am burning
I am in a blaze and burning
the flame in me is flaring
Me and you my torment
March 31, 2013
the conscious muslim .
For some reason my inbox is often filled with questions about love and marriage. I get questions that are about love for a man, or a woman and how it will kill them if they don’t marry. A tad dramatic.
They often make me chuckle, I shouldn’t, but it does.
In my humble opinion people rarely understand what love means, what it entails and what it evokes. Loving someone simply for yourself isn’t really love, love is pain. Love can be test of endurance, of patience and sometimes even the mind. It is a longing, it isn’t always suppose to work out. For this I blame films and TV culture, it has allowed people to get carried away from reality and more importantly meanings. I met Amir Sulaiman a couple of weeks ago and he was speaking about loving the messenger of Allāh ﷺ he explained that learning to love him ﷺ had broken his heart, it had caused to him to want to meet the Messenger ﷺ so much that he was besides himself. Subḥān’Allāh.
Shaykh Ḥamza Yūsuf once explained that Arabs of the jāhilī period had a better grasp and understanding of what love is than many people today, and he quoted some poetry from Layla Majnun. I too will share my favorite passage from their tale, move over Romeo and Juliet! Let me just set the scene. Majnun loves Layla dearly, his father takes him on a pilgrimage to “get over” her and this is what enfolds.
“They say, ‘Crush the desire of Layla in your heart.’ But I implore Thee, oh my God, let it grow even stronger, Take what is left of my life and add it to Layla’s. Let me never demand from heras much as a single hair, even if my pain reduces me to the width of one. Let her punish and torment me. Let her wine alone fill my cup, my name never to be spoken without her seal. My life shall be sacrificed for her beauty, my blood shall be spilled freely for her. Though I burn for her in agony, like a candle, none of my days shall be free from this pain. Let me love, oh my God, love for love’s own sake, and make my love a hundred times as great as it was and is.”
Such was Majnun’s prayer to the Almighty as his father silently listened. What could he say? He knew now that he could not loosen the fetters binding his heart, could not find a cure for its ills. There was nothing to do but leave Mecca and start on the voyage home, where they waited impatiently in sorrow and fear. And when they arrived, his entire family surrounded the Sayyid. “How was it?” they cried. “Tell us, has Allāh helped? Is he saved?”
But the old mans eyes looked tired and sad, “I have tried, I have told him how to ask God for relief from this curse, this Layla. But he clung to his own ideas.”
“What did he do?” they asked.
“He cursed himself and blessed Layla.”
March 23, 2013
Just a few minutes ago, I got confirmation in a text from Shaykh Ninowy that the contents of the message below are authentic. These are reflections transcribed from a telephone conversation he had about Dr. al-Bouti’s assassination. The Shaykh gave me permission to share it with others. May Allah preserve Shaykh Ninowy as well.
` Abdullah bin Hamid Ali
“Yesterday we heard about the martyrdom of our Shaykh and Ustadh, Sayyidi Al-Allama Muhammad Sa’id Al-Buti, may Allah Ta’ala accept him among the Shuhada in the highest levels of Jannah. Amin.
He was martyred by a suicide bomber right in his Masjid where he lectured for decades now, coincidently named: Masjid Al-Iman. He was martyred in the middle of his regular Qur’anic Tafsir Halaqah. But neither the sanctity of the House of Allah nor the Book of Allah mattered to those extremists who eagerly wanted to silence him, and when they failed to academically, textually, spiritually, and humanly refute him, then instead of accepting the difference in views, felt the need to blow him up and shatter his honorable body into pieces, and shed his honorable blood to mix with the pages of the Holy Book he was teaching with the Holy Masjid soil and the multitudes of Angles filling everything in between. Silent no more should we be to violent extremism and to the ideology of bloodshed to settle differences. We have been screaming for decades now, that extremism, violence and intolerance is a satanic book not a sacred book. It is an evil mixed with a sick neo-Jahili, neo-Khariji, and maybe psychological complexes, but sanitized by shiny religious rhetoric. Extremism, violence, and intolerance which leads to intellectual terrorism followed by actual terrorism is not, despite its claim, connected to the Book or Sunnah. Nothing will stop intellectual terrorists from carrying out terrorism, not the Book, nor the Sunnah, nor any sound logic, or any human value for that. The Ummah needs to go back to the Qur’an and Sunnah and their unconditional compassion, tolerance, and freedom. Fighting for freedom does not mean in anyway killing those who peacefully speak their view and understanding of the Book and Sunnah.
This old Shaykh, who did not only do Tarbiyah of the nowadays preachers and scholars, but did Tarbiyah of an Ummah. Tarbiyah is not just teaching and transmitting knowledge. But even in that field, you can hardly see one Sunni preacher or scholar in the past 30 or so years who was not academically or spiritually influenced by Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id, if not a student of his in one way or another. This is pretty much throughout the Muslim world. The Ash’ari of the time and the Ghazzali of the Era, were not inflammatory titles, like many nowadays, but a closer examination of a profound scholarship and an encyclopedic knowledge that a lot of scholars felt towards Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id, Rahimahu’Allahu Ta’ala. A Mutakallem of the highest caliber, a fine Usuli rare to come by, a Sufi of the pious predecessor’s style who feared the big claims/titles and entourages of the nowadays Sufi claimers, a Faqeeh of vast knowledge that made him tolerate differences and understand other views, and a human being who feared shedding blood and afforded every human being regardless of background with dignity and respect. He spent most of his 84 years of life defending Islam and its Messenger, sallallahu alayhi wa aalihi wa sallam, articulating the Islamic principles, spreading the Sunnah, and refuting those who slandered Islam and its facts. An ocean of knowledge, humility, and spirituality that unconditionally gave without anticipation of recognition by others, nor did he seek to build a personal empire of name and fame, but consistently tried to avoid that at any cost all the time. But all that was not enough for some to spare him from vile slander, intellectual terrorism, followed by blowing up a bomb in the Masjid during a Qur’anic Tafsir session. Freedom to some means enslavement to different set of masters only. Sunnah means the understanding of their Shuyukh only, irrespective of the actual state of the sacred Texts, and justice means slandering, inciting hate and violence, naturally followed by killing all those who dare to disagree.
This pattern isn’t new in our history. Sanitizing political crimes with religious rhetoric is something we saw from most if not all non-righteous political rulers or periods in our “Islamic” History. Intolerance followed by intellectually terrorizing the opponent through slandering and demonization, both of which pave the way to actually carry out violence and terrorism acts. To make it all worse, such violence and terrorism acts had to be sanitized by religious rhetoric to twist evil acts -in a very sick way- into “righteous” ones. Such pattern was not limited to ruling governments at that time only, but some radical religious groups from all sects carried out many acts of intellectual terrorism and actual acts of terror, all in the name of the religion. The target was never the perceived enemy of Muslims at that time, not that such a deed would be endorsed. Their target was not the tyrants who ruled the Muslim world for centuries, nor the oppressors who became more or less like Pharaohs’ on earth, but their target was always the Muslim scholars who disagree with them. Their true enemy is not atheism, blasphemy (Kufr), unjust rulers, or oppressors. But their enemy is all Muslims who disagree with them in understanding the texts of the Book and Authentic Sunnah. This kind of extremism in the new age is not limited to one sect versus another, and it is very much alive and well today. It replaced the Qur’an and Authentic Sunnah’s texts as a reference and a standard, to their own figures statements and understandings. The Divine texts are inclusive and contain unconditional compassion and mercy, but human statements seem to lack that infinite and unconditional compassion, love and mercy.
Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id was not infallible, for the last infallible in our belief is Sayyiduna Rasoolul’Allah, sallallahu alayhi wa aalihi wa sallam, but he never taught that unity meant conformity. He always mentioned that it is okay to look at one thing (revealed text) and see it in two different ways. “Tafkir” instead of “Takfir” was always a foundation for the honorable Shaykh to articulate the differences with others. Today, with the microphones (literally and metaphorically) and platforms being limited to certain views only, big titles and grand claims being custom made and marketed, and more ideological walls of hate erected under the banner of love, the world is undergoing rapid radicalization. This is not limited to Muslims with their various sects only. There is an urgent need for all groups and sects to revive “self-criticism”, stand corrected, and return to the encompassing mercy and the fountain of love in the Qur’an and Authentic Sunnah. It is important NOT to erect idols of people we love and adore whether they’ve passed or still alive, and similarly it is important NOT to erect idols of a limited, non-definitive, and subjective understanding of the Sacred Texts. An understanding of the Sacred Texts or scriptures that lacks unconditional compassion is illegitimate, textually and logically. I guess before all, we need to re-instate the urgent need to unite around the texts of the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah, for it seems as this very fundamental principal is in jeopardy.
Sayyiduna Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa aalihi wa sallam, emerged as the Arabic voice denouncing the old Arab ways, enduring extreme persecution from his own people. But by endangering himself, he gave us all one of the most precious monotheistic gifts: the duty of collective self-criticism. Speaking the truth though it be against yourself. Today, if we do not revive this concept, we will risk a profound cultish mentality and behavior taking over our youth from Jakarta to Morocco and everything in between.
The challenge we face in our time is not as much the Sufi-Salafi debate, not even the Sunni-Shi’i irreconcilable differences, but actually more along the line of silent but progressive withdraw out of religiosity as a whole. Islam came to give people life. All people. Regardless of background. Islam did not come to take life away from people. Islam came to offer all people hope, growth and opportunity, regardless whether people believed in it or not. But Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id was ahead of his time in that. Read, if you will, “Kubra Al-Yaqiniyyat Al-Kawniyyah”, and read if you will “ Fiqh-u-Seerah”, and read and read and read…they are not books compiled by “copy and paste” from here and there, but actual masterpieces of thought and thought provoking analysis that not many profound scholars cannot begin to construct. Those very books kept many young people within the folds of Islam, and this is a fact. “Kubral Yaqiniyyat” cleared many doubts many university students had about Allah Ta’ala, His Existence, and Unique Attributes. “Fiqh-u-Sunnah” re-affirmed the faith in the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa aalihi wa sallam, in many minds where doubt seeped in due to incomplete or partial understanding. The list goes on. Our scholars, not just our “preachers”, along with the youths are the most valuable asset of this Ummah. None of them is perfect by themselves, but when they are united they become close to it. The Ummah has lots of preachers but not many scholars today, and the youths have a duty to search for the truth wherever it is, question truths offered to them, and check and reference every statement against the Qur’anic and Sunnah texts. Then disagree if so it is in understandings, but observe the Qur’an and Sunnah’s ethics of disagreements when doing so. Let the minds fight, but keep the hearts in love. The youths have a right to understand that Islamic knowledge is not only information, but transformation. Transformation was the state of Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id Al-Buti. He transformed himself first, and transformed those around him. A Sufi without a name, but in reality, a Salafi without a label, but in thought, an Ash’ari without rigidness, and a Shafi’i without self-righteousness. The Dunya came to him many many times, but he did not want to have lots of shoes walking behind him, and was not interested in the hunger for “titles” and the position mania. Jealousy and envy was distanced from him as his position in knowledge and practice, along with his harsh asceticism made him far away from the claimers. The chairs in his home were the very old wooden chairs that Syrians used to have in the 60’s, he did not change them. So was the desk, and the simple furniture that’s dates decades back. Ministry and cabinet level positions came begging him, but ran away from it all. Lately, a concerted campaign to smear and slander him for a position he has always held so profoundly, ended up as a cleansing process for him preparing him for something purer and greater. Yet despite all the oceans of slander and hate-incitements, he kept praying for those who disagreed with him, tried to find excuses for them, and asked them to come and talk, not to use violence to express themselves. There is no doubt that the corrupted and oppressive regime in Syria used the principals of Shaykh Al-Buti to its benefit in the past and presence. But the Shaykh was always giving all sides his wisdom, and was not one sided. Unlike the popular propaganda, Shaykh Al Buti did not endorse the oppression of the regime, but stood firmly against armed rebellion and raging violence that is not only unsubstantiated textually, but leads to the destruction of humans and lands. He profoundly believed that violence to change a political situation or a sitting ruler constitutes a greater evil and is impressible. His position does not come from emptiness, despite the powerful media campaigns nowadays that suggests otherwise. This is a classical understanding held by many of our traditional scholars of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’a starting from examples that had to deal with Al-Hajjaj and before and after. Irrespective of what the academic conclusion of the “permissibility of violence to change a political circumstance”, this should have been an academic difference, to say the least. The greatest tragedy in Syria today is not just turning a beautiful country into shambles, but the people and forces that are pushing so hard to destroy the actual humanity inside the human being, to rob the soul out of people conscious, and to eradicate any human values, mercy, or compassion left. The walls of hate that are being erected under the banner of love, the planting of a hate ideology that those who disagree with you have no place in life, and that hope is only extended to those you like. The situation in Syria specially and in other Muslim places has just plunged into a deep dark hole, with a promise for more killings and more violence and more evil to come. Please pray for peace to be restored to Syria, all the Muslims, and all human beings all over the world. Pray for mercy to be on all those who lost in their lives in this mad chaos and unfathomable violence, pray for the destitute and refugees that are in the millions today, pray for all afflicted human beings to be saved and granted ease. Pray that Allah Ta’ala saves people, all people, from more bloodshed and misery. As for our Shaykh, may Allah Ta’ala forgive him, bless him, accept him among the martyrs, and grant him the highest levels in Jannatul Firdaws. Amin.”.
December 19, 2012
December 9, 2012
November 25, 2012
Canada Tour of Habib Khadhim!! http://www.muwasala.org – Program Event posted here.