Wazwaz: In this blog we will focus on understanding the human condition in our journey to self-knowledge. For many, faith has become a journey or road to greatness, perfectionism or happiness. What we have and how far up the ladder of success defines our self-worth or truth. Going ahead or going up the ladder has become so important – that we resist in that journey to stop and ask where we are going. We are so happy that we are moving ahead, that we lose sight of important dimensions of our humanity and unconsciously sacrifice our soul in the process. In truth, we are here to experience life, to learn, understand and grow. This is put best in words by Dr. Abdul Lateef Krauss Abdullah, a specialized counselor in social work and peace studies:
we are here to experience, and it is okay to fall down, it is okay to trip, it is okay to mess up (whatever ‘messing up’ means) and it is okay to get back up again. Get down. Get back up - a custom course work... Everything that is happening at every moment is the next lesson, like the next ‘flash card.’ Every person that walks in the door is the next flash card for you, your lessons. Everything that you feel is the next flash card for the next lesson. Everything that you see, everything that you taste, everything that you smell, everything that you hear and all of your realizations are part of the next lesson. Now ‘faith’ is starting to become something real and personally engaging.”
As we continue the discussion further, I want to stop and switch gear a bit and focus on Ibn 'Ata Allah al-Iskandari teachings.
"If you were only to reach Him after all your misdeeds had been eliminated and your pretensions all obliterated you would never reach Him. But rather, when He wants to make you reach Him, He conceals your nature with His nature and your attribute with His attribute and makes you reach Him with what is from Him to you, not from what is from you to Him."
In some books that mock Islam and Muslims, their evidence is they go around people of faith, and they collect faults, shortcomings, and social ills. So a person of faith doing wrong or violating their values is an argument against faith. Some examples they cite is this priest molested a child, or this imam beat his wife. They cannot reconcile reality as we discussed in the blog on Salman al Farisi, who had to deal with a priest violating the laws of the Divine. God is not asking the believer to be perfect and faith is not about projecting an image of this perfect human, intellectual and great faithful being. Shaykh Qays, how would comment on the above wisdom from this great scholar?
Shaykh Qays: Some people see the call to virtue as a denial of the reality of the human being or the human condition that is why they are running around exposing people. That is why the media and entertainment industry often thrive on invasive and intrusive programing. The argument is exposing people's faults is seen as an argument against God. Some feel obsessively unveiling the faults and shortcomings of people it will somehow show that there is nothing sacred and thus no God. However, true faith is not about denial of the reality of the human condition.
Faith is, in part, about establishing and protecting the Divinely-bestowed honor of human beings despite the weaknesses and failings that are part of our condition. Faith therefore, to a great extent, entails not only the pursuit of virtue, but the covering of human faults as long as doing so doesn’t itself result in harm. Given that, some people say that religion lacks accountability. There is an interesting gulf of understanding there.
The fact is that sound religion demands individual accountability: the Day of Judgment is real and is about absolute accountability. Yet those who deny that day try to make every day the Day of Judgment while denying people room to grow, to repent to purify themselves. That is not real accountability based on the pursuit of virtue.
Faults are part of the human condition, and they are part of what brings about the perfection of the human being to the extent that the individual realizes his vulnerability and deficiency - to that extent, he will achieve self-knowledge and knowledge of the truth. Prying, and trying to expose people isn’t helpful in that process.
Revelation calls on man to constantly further that process of knowledge by cultivating God-consciousness - evaluating his motives and acts in order to get closer to God. So we are to know the details of our inner selves and not concern ourselves with inner faults and shortcomings of others. This is how we are able to receive His guidance and live as noble creatures.
Thus human nobility is a gift from Allah, despite his own flawed and indigent condition and humble, created origin. A noble person, a believer in what we have mentioned, is familiar with his own deficiency and that very deficiency, in part, causes him to turn to Allah. He is not afraid of embracing his condition, but at the same time he is not complacent about his failings and faults. He identifies them and through repentance and making amends he uses them as means to turn to God. So human deficiency has a purpose.
When he thus turns to God and he looks at other creatures he sees the nobility that God has bestowed on them. And to the extent that he is aware of his own faults he sees others as better them himself and he deals with them accordingly. When he deals with himself - he calls himself to account daily and cries in the night to God for help with his faults. That is how it works.
Wazwaz: Let me though point out something that concerns me regarding this understanding. At times when people are exposed, they respond by saying, I am not perfect. They don't internally recognize that realization though, since they avoid accountability. In a seminar once with some high profile people – the speaker was promoting civil speech. However, civil speech and eloquence became a cover to avoid accountability. The speaker was discussing the mistake in going to war against Iraq, since Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. But it stopped there. There was no remorse over the harm committed. When I raised my hand to explain the concept of restorative justice and the importance of repairing the harm and feeling remorse – the speaker looked visibly upset and avoided me.
Another case in point is relationships between men and women – many high profile and famous people in this country were caught cheating and betraying their spouses. People rush to seek counseling to save their face and feel good, and ABORT any feelings of remorse for the harm they did. They just want to FEEL good again instead of repairing the harm or the relationship they destroyed. They fear sadness or remorse and avoid it at all costs.
Shaykh Qays: That is a good point. There is a need for balance and public accountability when there is public harm involved. It seems to me that when people are exposed it is conservatives who draw the most media attention. Here is this person who is promoting “family values” caught having an affair. So people who criticize religion seize on such cases. But it’s not only the critics. Religious people also, often keen to avoid their faith being dragged into the dirt as a result, are often judgmental and defensive in such situations and a lynch mob quickly emerges against the offender.
And once a lynch mob takes over meaning and wisdom get lost in the frenzy. When an individual’s private wrongdoings are exposed there are many beneficial lessons to be learned and reminders to be heeded. Among them is the reminder that humans are weak. But with that we see that private sins can become public if God wills and that repentance and turning away from sin without delay is wise and prudent in this world even before the next. It means also that chastity is a weighty matter. It does not mean that chastity is impractical or naive any more than high murder rates indicate that peaceful coexistence is impractical or naive. Precautions have to be taken. It means the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad are true. It means repentance is due, and whose faults and sins were not exposed should thank Allah, concealing them by repenting from their own sins.
Wazwaz: Thank you for your comments. Let us return to the verses in Al-Waqia and Ta-ha and perhaps reflect on how believers and disbelievers are described in the Qur'an and how they are guided. Both believers and disbelievers are reminded with death. The warning or reminder is sterner for believers. Can you expand on that?
Shaykh Qays: Al-Waqia - To be clear disbelief (kufr in Arabic) entails rejection of all or part of what the prophets (peace be upon them) brought. According to Islamic tradition, belief in the existence of God, and in the Day of Judgment are denied either actually or effectively (partially by, for example accepting some prophets and rejecting others). The main reason that people abandon signs, the intellect, and miracles and reject all or part of God’s command is worldliness - the tendency to give worldly interests precedence over next-worldly interests and realities.
That tendency causes us to forget the next world, and the ultimate purpose behind our existence, God. So the worldly must forget and proceed to live based on mere conjecture or outright lies in the absence of real knowledge concerning our ultimate purpose and the meaning (beyond the mechanics) behind our existence. Human life is thus reduced to conjecture and convention based on what can be observed of the mechanics of this world.
Revelation offers guidance - interrupting the cycle of worldly thought and convention by calling people, and in Sura Al-Waqia disbelievers in particular, to ponder on death. That call takes the form, in this instance, of a threat. When God threatens the believers or disbelievers, it is a sign of His mercy. His Pure mercy proceeds from absolute knowledge of all reality and the human condition. God does not have a score to settle with anyone, even those that reject and insult Him for neither the praise nor denigration of human beings affects Him in the least. No one can harm God.
Rather, the divine threat comes in revelation to awaken hearts that are asleep. That is what is happening in this Sura and indeed all of the Quran. Allah reminds them about death, about trauma and vulnerability in order to guide them to reality. Not for any gain or benefit that may return to Him.
Wazwaz: Can you comment on the question - bring back the soul if you are true in your claim of independence?
Shaykh Qays: It is a rhetorical challenge meant to reinforce something that they and we all know. It is a reminder that strikes at the soul. We are not independent, we are all, believers and disbelievers alike, vulnerable.
Wazwaz: The desire for greatness is a ladder that humans throughout history sought. In the chapter at-Takwir, there is a beautiful question that is raised to humans who went blindly in search for greatness. “where then are you going?” The reminder of death is meant to help us reflect on our final destination and answer this question to help us walk humbly on the earth, grounded in reality, open to accountability and repentance.
Throughout the Qur'an – we read God addressing the Prophet, “It was not you who threw. . “ or “It was not you who brought their hearts together. . .” The believer embraces their vulnerability, their true selves, and their capabilities. We see this hatred of vulnerability in Pharaoh, and also in the group addressed in Al-Waqia - the huff puff argument is embedded in self-denial to their vulnerability and an embedded desire for greatness. Would you agree with that?
Shaykh Qays: Yes, I would agree to that. I would add that often that vulnerability is masked with mockery. Mockery is often countered by the Divine threat I spoke of earlier. It does seem as though mockery and ridicule (istihzah in Arabic) are common traits of those engaged in active rejection of the Truth. The mockery is a mask somewhat like a small animal’s defense mechanism to make it look bigger than it is. I suspect that some of those who have nothing to say about life’s purpose and meaning actually engage in mockery of things sacred in order to assure themselves (at a level that rational arguments cannot) that there is no Divine otherwise they would long have been struck down for their flying in His face so to speak.
In some way they are testing their own conjecture about the existence of God. But Allah, Most High, is not taunted into revealing Himself to the arrogant. He does though respond to all concerned parties in revelation. God speaks to the reality of their, our (human) condition, with which He, Most High, is better acquainted than we ourselves. In Sura al-Waqia it is as though the disbelievers are being asked “How can you make light of something so tremendous when your reality is so fragile, so vulnerable and you know that?” That is the rhetorical question that is being asked.
Wazwaz: In light of our discussion and the passages in the Quran, what does God see that we are not aware of?
Shaykh Qays: Allah sees their vulnerability even though they are hiding it. But God knows their internal state and vulnerability. And it is as though they are being told “Look at how you are talking now, but what about when death is close, and you are helpless?” Thus those mockers and whoever else reads those verses are reminded of the meaning behind death of the account on the Day of Judgment and of meaning of human vulnerability and accountability, i.e. the greatness of God above all. So it is as if God is telling them that they, and indeed we all, should remember our own vulnerability and not be arrogant rejecters so that we can ultimately appreciate the truth that leads to God who is greater than this world and all it contains.
Wazwaz: Based on your understanding, do you agree that there is no obsession to make a non-believer believe, but out of a genuine concern, we invite. How do you respond to the over powering arguments or obsession to make those that believe - disbelieve? For example, Richard Dawkins does not even understand Islam or read the Qur’an, yet he believes he is qualified to criticize it and attack Muslims. In his recent attack, he mocks Muslims’ lack great achievements. Also, in regards to those who attack Islam today. Instead of obsessively acting on faith X which they believe is true, they spend their lives obsessively proving Islam is false. How would you comment?
Shaykh Qays: I am firmly convinced that the so-called new atheist movement represents the onset of the death throes of modern materialism as a philosophy or worldview which, despite trying to ride on the back as it were of dazzling scientific achievements for quite some time now, has not been able to dislodge “organized religion” as the fundamental worldview of the vast majority of mankind in as quick a manner as some of its devotees had anticipated.
People like Dawkins would have people believe that by figuring out the mechanics of as many things as possible the meaning of all things, if there is such a thing, will emerge. There is, of course, no scientific basis for that religious and philosophical posture (and there couldn’t be it being the case that it is religion and philosophy that shape science and not the other way round). Yet despite such imaginings and assumptions people need to know the meaning of life now while they are still alive and can do something with it. And science or more precisely materialist pseudo-religion, of the type people like Dawkins offers only a promise, a proposition of arriving as the ultimate truth at some undetermined point in the not too foreseeable future.
Of course that is not a feasible proposition for those in search of meaning, who are confronted by life’s ultimate questions. That proposition inherently assumes that there is no ultimate purpose (at least no urgent one) which defeats the purpose of waiting for its discovery or confirmation of its nonexistence. So materialists have resorted to making a religion out of attacking religion as a way to destroy opposition to their religious and philosophical assumptions which are impotent regarding life’s big questions. The kind of claim about the lack of greatness and power on the part of Muslims is consistent with such an approach. That sort of tactic is self-defeating, is perhaps a further indication of the death throes I mentioned earlier, and stands in stark contrast to the genuine appeals to man’s spirituality and rational faculties that one finds in all ancient religious traditions, and which inform the Muslim concept of Da’wah or invitation to the truth.
Wazwaz: Thank you. For further reflection listen to:
(To Be Continued)
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