Monthly Archives: September 2009

Ramadan Articles – Wk 3 & 4

Apologies for the late posting of these articles. Enjoy two in one post!

Solidarity, and the integrity of community

Shaykh Jihad H Brown – 19 September 2009

Man is a social animal. The phrase is a staple of political science but it carries with it implications worthy of contemplation. This means that we need one another just to get on with the basics of daily living. We really just can’t go it alone; hence, “no man is an island”. So it does indeed matter how we organise ourselves and what parameters we accept for our treatment of one another.

We have no choice but to recognise a fundamental need for community; and that the integrity of community must be respected and maintained as unassailable. Individualism – especially in its more extreme forms – implies a decentralising separation of the whole. The individualist enters into society to further his or her personal interests without taking into account the greater interests of community. Individualism does not lend credence to any philosophy that requires the sacrifice of individual self-interest in favour of any higher social cause.

But to the contrary, we must depend on one another and therefore be concerned for the principles and protocols by means of which we structure and manage a healthy and supportive society; a society that shares responsibility for its weakest members and allows everyone the means to prosper and live with dignity.

A responsible and compassionate community – “ummah” in Arabic – must enjoy a solidarity that maintains its integrity. But this solidarity must be based on something beyond rainy-day friendships or marriages of convenience. Otherwise it will not hold. Once this is forfeited, it’s all Lord of the Flies from there. Could all of us really survive the devolution of our humanity like Shuya, the hapless protagonist of the Koushun Takami novel, Battle Royale?

A truly human community is founded on the shared recognition of “ought”-based ethical principles by its members. There is an assumption on the part of its members that there are principles – worthy of maintenance – that are based on something beyond material gain; and that adherence to these ethics is what makes our environment a healthy place.

The alternative would be that our solidarity be based merely on the utility of the wolf pack. Policies of only material utility leave us with an “open season” for the hunter and the hunted where nothing is beyond “redundancy” and deletion. We have to be about something more than just materialism, and allowing space for the sacred enables this.

In fact, human rights are ultimately impossible without the sacred. If the reasoning behind human rights is followed to its source, you will always end up with Jeremy Bentham’s assertion that “rights” are merely “nonsense on stilts”. The only alternative to timeless sacred principles is the existing one that has rights relying on mutual convention. But there is no guarantee that conventions will hold (ie national socialism or neoconservatism). Conventions, lacking any serious grounding beyond utility, are little more than a line in the sand waiting for the boldest player to cross it.

The logical conclusion of society without the sacred might be a place where prisoners scheduled for capital punishment are strapped into cots on buses where they are driven to loading docks at hospitals. There they are quietly euthanised while still on the bus and harvested for organs, which are then unloaded to recipients lined up on the other side. Now that’s utility. The principles that organise our community and upon which we treat one another have to be about something greater than the bottom line.

Tragedy of a discourse with no flavour

Shaykh Jihad H Brown – 26 September 2009

Few things are more disappointing than an invitation to enjoy fine Indian cuisine with Asian friends and finding out that they have withheld the spices for “your benefit”. A meal with no flavour is not only uninteresting, but of dubious nutritional value.

I have a very similar concern for the international discourse on Islam. Apparently, only two alternatives can be offered to narrow and rigid interpretations of Islam. The first is the liberal approach. Emanating from an inferiority complex, it ultimately seeks to prove that Islam is no different from liberal humanism – something that was here-to-fore lost on the masses of the Muslim world and everyone else for that matter, until it was discovered by a young group of western-educated elites. Personally, I already had liberal humanism; it led me to finally ask, “Is that all there is?” I thought the Muslims might have something more interesting. Is it possible I was wrong? This feels more like a sociology 101 class. Wake me up when it’s over.

The second tack is frantically to put everyone at ease that Islam is not dangerous. Islam means peace and it is all about tolerance. Islam is just so neutral, so neighbourly, so prepared to be your doormat. We’ve been driving this point home for nearly 10 years now. Is that all there is to Islam? Do Islam and Muslims have nothing more to offer than “the absence of…”; the absence of aggression, the absence of political incorrectness, the absence of significance, the absence of any challenge to disingenuous materialism or a slothfully passive existence, nothing more than mimicry of the latest fashion or catchphrase out of the new western Mecca?

Sometimes it feels like a Tolstoy novel where the aristocrats cannot speak a full sentence of Russian without one or two phrases in French.

When all is said and done, and when the target audience of the second tack are thoroughly satisfied that Muslims are not a threat, and Islam has been sufficiently neutered, it will be soundly dismissed as a relic from the past with no significance to the life and trials of our contemporary moment.

But maybe I’m not just ready to go out like that. The far Left are vocally calling for a protestant revolution in Islam; what a historically naïve idea. They are calling for religion to be a private matter between a person and their god. But I have never considered Islam as a “religion”. I had understood it to be more of a “way of peace” that calls its travellers to be in harmony with the cosmos.

It’s not about anti-extremism versus moderation, it’s about the principle of “balance” that brings equilibrium to living systems. It’s a way of social justice that pulls your coat to the responsibility of compassion and concern for those less fortunate than yourself. And yes, it offers a resounding challenge to the cold insensitivity that would turn a blind eye to fairness with regard to the plight of the weak or innocent.

But most of all it is about being alive to the life of the heart; and awake to the life of the intellect. It is about the illumination of spiritual consciousness and the conscientiousness to put yourself in the shoes of your fellow man.

It is about love. It is about the adoration of a Sublime and Eternal Presence. It is about the mentorship of a stunning model of humanity who said: “I was sent to every black person and red person … I was only sent to complete sound ethics.”

The Quran says: “He was only sent to bring compassion to the world.” Now I’m afraid that is a dangerous idea.

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Its End is Freedom From the Fire

Shaykh J Hashim Brown – 12 September

“Qabd” is the word to describe the constricted feeling in your chest when you feel the world is closing in around you.

It is a step away from despair, to lose all hope or confidence, to be disheartened. Its opposite is hope, to cherish a desire with anticipation. Both are modes of thinking about the future.

Despair is a negative view toward tomorrow while hope is a positive one.

Each of us naturally seeks to extricate ourselves from pain and discomfort.

Each of us seeks relief and release from suffering. The close of Ramadan offers a window of opportunity for just that.

Ramadan is a month the first of which is mercy, the middle of which is forgiveness, and the end of which is freedom from the fire. The logical conclusion of forgiveness is a reprieve from punishment and a stay of sentence. People are amassing such a quantity of warrants for pardon, and portions of divine forgiveness during the middle of the month that it must crescendo and tip the scales at the end.

For those who achieve this bounty is admittance to an expansive and serene garden. The nature of this garden is described in the Quran as a place where babbling brooks of sweet pure water flow from beneath raised pavilions that abound with the most comfortable furnishings.

In luxurious garments its residents find exquisite cuisine and the most comforting of companions. Its rivers are of milk and honey, its vistas are a delight to the eye, and they are served with sweet wine the bouquet of which increases perception and exhilarates, as opposed to dulling the senses and acting as a depressant.

It is a place in which there is no sorrow, only relief, only comfort and every joy. But some people will be denied access and forbidden entrance. They will miss the boat. The Quran offers a description of the fire. It is a place where faces are darkened with shadow.

Its occupants are dragged along in chains around their necks, toiling in eternal exhaustion and discomfort. Its fire and smoke closes in around them like the walls of a claustrophobic prison. Dragged through the filth and refuse of open and infected wounds, en masse, they are suffocated by the only bitter food of a cactus plant that neither nourishes nor satisfies their craving.

If they ask for water, it comes in the form of a downpour of boiling liquid that scalds the face and shreds the stomach. Death harasses them from every quarter but never quite extinguishing their misery.

Look, one can believe this or not. But I’d sure hate to come down on the wrong side of the wager. Quite frankly there is no logical explanation for the factors of the unseen except a miracle. It’s only that the matters of the unseen do not contradict rational logic, though they may contradict empirical observation; the two are absolutely different. This continues to be a fact of knowledge lost on many of the educated. So we are left to ask ourselves: “Do I have space in my life for miracles?”

But for those of feeble conviction and narrow metaphysical vision, these profits and losses may seem too far off. But if the Paradise is anything, it is a reprieve and release from disappointment, sorrow, and stress.

The despair, anxiety, and grief that might overcome one’s heart at times in a person’s life are actually weeds that grow out of the hellfire itself. That is something that anyone can identify with.

Shaykh Jihad delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi. For more information please visit www.salaamexpat.com/abudhabi

And its Middle is Forgiveness

Sheikh Jihad H Brown – 05 Sept

“You will never enter the Garden until you believe; and you will never believe until you love one another. Shall I indicate for you a thing that were you to do it you would love one another? Spread peace amongst one another.”

– Prophet Mohammed

“He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tradition says that Ramadan is a month the first of which is mercy, the middle of which is forgiveness, and the end of which is freedom from the fire. The Prophet said: “Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan and stands in prayer on the Night of Power – in faith and counting on his reward from Allah alone – all that has preceded of his sins will be forgiven.”

Ramadan is a season of forgiveness. Every son of Adam is prone to shortcomings. It is a flaw built into the system. But no matter how far we think we’ve fallen, no matter how separated we feel we’ve become, Allah warns us never to despair of His mercy. And like the parable of the man who killed 100 souls and died on the road to repentance, it requires some resolve and a show of effort. The angels of salvation and the angels of damnation are fighting over him, so they settle it by measuring the distance, finding that with his last breath he has pulled himself in the direction of his objective. You get points just for coming out.

But can those so in need of forgiveness expect to receive it if they cannot give it? Forgiveness is healing, (shifa). It brings about a mending of rifts and makes things whole again. Acceptance in the final reckoning will be for those of sound (saleem) heart. A sound heart is one that is free of hatred, free of grudges. When a seemingly inconsequential companion was asked by the others why the Prophet had singled him out as so significant, he replied that he had no idea; except one thing, he never went to bed at night with anything in his heart against any other person.

The second secretary general of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld, said of forgiveness that it is “the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean”. The peace that must be spread among one another is not the greeting of “al-salam alaykum”, but it is peace of heart toward one another.

Forgiveness – whether granting it or seeking it – is a story of return. It brings things full circle. It is a prescription to right imbalance. It makes a vibrant and healthy future possible. The Dutch botanist Paul Boese is noted for saying that, “forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future”.

A healthy future needs solidarity and a sentiment of fraternity; a consciousness of responsibility (fard kifaya) for the public good (maslaha amma). The Prophet said: “My community is like a single body, when one limb suffers, the rest of the body lies awake in fever and sleeplessness.” Both solidarity and fraternity are not possible when hearts become hardened by harbouring spite and anger. Ramadan is a prescription to treat these types of heart conditions.

Sheikh Jihad H Brown delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi. For more information please refer to www.salaamexpat.com/abudhabi