Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Current Confusions

The world always seems to speed up just when we start to get a handle on things.  The bills come out of nowhere the moment you get caught up and think you can finally make progress.  The confusion arises the very second you thought you had it all solved.

Subhanullah, welcome to life!

We were never promised an easy time in this world.  How could we even be angry about all our struggles and moments of despair?  It's all part of the inevitable movement forward of Time.  In fact, when we step back and look at events in our own lives, and even in the wider world, we see that it is all nothing more than a series of things that happen that require responses.

Our problem is the we are creatures that feel, consider, emote, ask for justice and in the end tend to overthink things.  Mysterious forces prey upon our minds and plant all kinds of worst-case scenarios in the churning cauldron of our fears.  Our heart strings are pulled by our inner reservoirs of mercy, or conversely warped by rage into hatred.

The world is full of people who laugh, who cry, who thirst for revenge - all depending on their circumstances, personalities and inner natures.  Some do all those at once and writhe in confused inner tortures.  There are issues aplenty at all levels to throw us in the maelstrom of confusion, and I think Muslims have it worse than most because the forces of the Evil One are most keen to attack us, as Shaytan promised he would do.  He is busy ambushing us from every side, and sometimes it seems we are all too eager to give him a helping hand!

Allah promised salvation to those who believe and do what is moral and good.  This is a simple formula yet the most difficult thing for a human to do!  All previously revealed divine religions and spiritual masters have said the same, and much advice is given in the world's great mystical and religious literature to help us along this 'difficult path' as the Qur'an calls it.  I would advise all people of morality to seek strength in such literature, for the world is confusing and many are the heartaches caused to all by the confused.

I open with these words as a way to mitigate the overwhelming nature of the major issues we are facing as an Ummah.  I was thinking the other day about making a simple list of what I think are the biggest challenges we face just as a kind of To-Do list.  In other words, to make a simple accounting of what Muslims need to think about in terms of developing effective responses on the way to solutions.

In the same way that we believe there is a cure for every ailment besides death, I also feel that as believers from a positive-oriented religion, we need to define our problems so we can begin to craft positive solutions.  Our future is not a dark path filled with endless sorrows.  Life as a Muslim is tough, as Allah promised, but it is not impossible, and for every problem we have seen solutions in the past.  Our history has generally been an upward trend even though there have been major setbacks.

Who could have thought, when Abu Bakr and the Prophet (p) were hiding out in a cave, about to be captured, that there would one day be a billion Muslims in the world?  What resident of Baghdad in the Middle Ages, seeing the Mongols about to enter and raze the city to the ground, could have predicted most of the descendants of those same mass murderers would one day build the great empires of the Mughals and others?  Could they imagine the rise of a new super empire of Muslims next to Europe in the Ottomans?

No, for every hardship there is ease.  For every disaster there is a triumph.  For every heartache today there is a victory tomorrow.  This is the promise of Allah, and whether we are in the time of pain or joy, we are rewarded based on our faith and morality.  This is the way of life.  This is the reality of it all.

So what are the top problems I can see right now?  In no particular order I will list what I think are the main ones, and will offer a thought or two as to their solutions.  If anyone would like to add to the list or offer your thoughts, please feel free to comment.

#1  Confusion about the new 'Islamic State.' 

I put this issue first because this speaks to the heart of a lot of things we face and think about.  Muslims are oppressed all over the world, and just like the Jews established Israel as a safe zone for themselves, Muslims would like to think they have one too.  For anyone who has been in the Islamic 'movement' for years, you know that all we talked about forever was 'establishing' khilafah, making an Islamic state, establishing the Deen, and on and on. 

We often talk and have talked about this in conferences, in books and magazine articles, at dinner parties and in our organizations - forever.  The theory was all good and we assumed all our problems would be solved if we could just bring back the signature construct of the Islamic political system.  The Taliban claimed the mantle of an Islamic State, so did the Iranians.  Other places have been taking baby steps in this regard. 

Our problems have been that there is and has been so much retrograde and backwards culturalism and gratuitous violence attached to these and other movements that we really couldn't support them fully.  I mean, would the Prophet (p) really approve of forbidding girls from school or stoning the victims of rape?  Would he really support suicide bombers, random murders of innocents or blowing up worshippers at prayer in mosques, under any circumstances? 

The portrait of the Prophet we know in general would be against those things, and that is why the bulk of the world's Muslims have sat on the sidelines and rarely if ever supported any of these 'Islamic' groups.

Now we have a new group that has gone all out and boldly proclaimed a new caliphate and initially, at least, ignited the imagination of Muslims everywhere.  Just as quickly however they have shown themselves to be very - even gratuitously - harsh and without mercy to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

From a traditional standpoint, when we study the normal story of the Prophet (p) and the first Muslims, here are some things we do not read about:

A) Killing prisoners by the thousands in all places and in all times, even regardless of religion, age, gender, status, etc.
B) Doing bizarre things with bodies like making crescent shapes from them or hanging them up for all to see or mutilating them in public squares and killing people by torturing them to death.
C) Giving human heads for children to use as soccer balls.
D) Burning people alive in cages or otherwise.
E) Making young children behead prisoners, and holding classes on how to do it.
F) Grabbing innocent villagers and killing them and then enslaving their females in rape camps.
G) Killing Christians and Sabians for not converting or being too poor to pay overly high jizyah amounts.
H) Brutalizing populations into submission rather than giving da'wah.
I) Making enemies of everyone all at once without any seeming strategy or way to cope.

Now this list is of things the new caliphate has broadly publicized and regularly engages in among many odd and gruesome things you see in the news all the time.  I studied the life of the Prophet for many years and do not find he did any of these things.  Perhaps I am confused but I've read quite a lot and attended many lectures over the last two decades and somehow missed those things.

As Muslims outside the Middle East who would love to have a caliphate based on the Qur'an and Sunnah, we all want to know how these and other acts are justified.   I know a lot of Muslims who are literally paralyzed with confusion about this issue.  They want a caliphate, but do not believe this one may be authentic.  Their non-Muslim neighbors now look upon them with disgust and fear and many feel hopeless in defending Islam now.  Non-Muslim radio hosts and politicians are having a field day attacking us!  Our families are dispirited and our energy is getting paralyzed.

So the issue Muslims need to solve here is whether or not this caliphate is legitimate, and how does it justify its actions.  Can it be rehabilitated?  What is its status in Islamic Law?  What sources are its scholars using to justify its actions?  Are its scholars able to make rulings freely and oppose injustices they see?  How can peace be restored to the region in the midst of all this violence?  How can we talk to our non-Muslim neighbors about this issue?  How can we understand it among ourselves? 

I think this issue is the defining one of our time, for it supersedes the entire issue of 'terrorism' completely.  I would love to see the scholars debating this more, having conversations with the scholars of the new caliphate and coming to a consensus.  So far I have seen a lot of silence.  A few groups have attempted to refute the Islamic State and its actions, while others have gone quiet on this issue, perhaps out of sympathy or because they literally do not know how to respond. 

I think as an Ummah we need a lot more talk about this among ourselves and need to ask more questions of the scholars of the new caliphate, and I also think it would be good for us if the non-Muslims also saw a healthy ongoing debate.  I think they assume our general silence means we do not care or worse.  So this is the first issue we need to attempt to solve.

#2 The General Moral Decline of the Entire World. 

I believe that many factors have come together to make people more immoral than ever.  When I talk about morals I mean those shared religious values that can be found in all the major religions of the world whose founding goes back to authentic prophets sent from our Lord.

There has always been corruption in the world.  This is true.  However, in most societies the people would at least pay lip service to the morals, even if they did not all practice them in private. Now the world has turned upside down.  Homosexuality is being taught in kindergartens all across the Western World, whereas Christians and their governments and churches used to be against it.  We have Gay Muslim groups, Imams and even Masjids!  In Israel the Rabbis are losing their battle against the Gay movement there and in the Far East homosexuality is gaining increasing acceptance.  Only Africa appears to be trying to hold the line now, but progressive groups from the West are going full bore against them.  How long can African governments hold out?

Drinking alcohol and drug use are rampant all over the world and it has always been that way, even in Muslim lands, but now popular society glorifies it in ways I have never seen before.  It is accepted in popular culture now that it is normal to 'pop pills,' smoke weed or try exotic drugs for fun.  Governments all over the world are caving into this pressure and legalizing the stuff left and right.  I'm waiting for the new American flag, for example to be thirteen stripes with the gay rainbow colors with 50 little marijuana leaves for states!  Oh, and change the blue background for red to signify the abortion industry.  (Abortion is now a ubiquitous part of life in much of the world now).

The rising transgender phenomenon a la' Chris Jenner (I remember him from my cereal boxes back in the day!) is really warping things in ways I never thought imaginable.  Add to this a general culture of easy sex, disrespect for tradition and general lawlessness that is taking hold all over and I see a world in moral chaos like never before.  The Shaytan is laughing in triumph!

So where do Muslims fit in?  In general this moral relativism bordering on the insane is sapping the moral identity of so many Muslims, especially the young who are getting drawn into this 'if-it-feels-good-do-it. ethos'  I think if you did a poll of Muslim youth you would find most are lukewarm in terms of religious absolutes, and also that most would be very liberal on social values.

Forget about trying to force your daughter to marry her creepy older cousin from back in the village, she supports gay marriage!  You might as well give up the idea that your son will become a hafiz, he thinks alcohol is fine and wants a girl that looks like the latest pop diva for a girlfriend!

This problem of moral relativism infecting our newest generations is so serious because it goes against the definition of who we are and how we get to heaven.  We must believe (which means accepting the authority of Allah as a Law Giver) and do what is moral and good (which means staying on the straight path).  If someone doesn't do those things, where is the hope of heaven?

I think Muslims need to discuss this issue more.  I believe we can make connections with other religious groups who also feel like we do.  I think Muslims need to re-examine their allegiance to the Democratic Party which is at the forefront of tearing down all morals.  Can they bring the issues back into public discourse?  Where have Muslims been during the gay marriage debate?  How about the legalizing drugs juggernaut?  If non-Muslims see us in other spheres making a difference or making our voice heard, then they will not think all we are is a one-issue group of people (politics in the Middle East).  I would love to see movement on stemming the tide of Shaytan's victory campaign!

#3 The Decline in Reading.

This is the last issue I will raise, because I believe it gets to the heart of many other things.  An educated person is a person who has more to think about and more to offer back.  Islam is a very text-heavy religion.  The Qur'an is over six thousand verses.  There are thousands of hadiths.  There are books of fiqh, seerah, philosophy and more.

No, not everyone needs to read them all, but there is some reading required of all Muslims.  In the age of the Smartphone, the discipline of 'book reading' is a dying art, even as physical books are passing away.

Oh sure, lots of people read web pages or twitter posts or emails, but it is not the same as reading a book that may consist of dozens up to hundreds of pages on a single subject.  This is a discipline and it takes work.  Now go and look at your average teenager or twenty-something using their phone.  Yep, constant swiping, little texts sent, more swiping.  This is the 'new reading' style.

Even the Common Core business you might have heard about has gotten in on the new style.  Students are no longer expected to read full books, but to merely read small excerpts and analyze their 'informational content or context.'  Teachers have been gradually doing this 'excerpting' for years now, getting tired of assigning readings and having fewer and fewer students doing them (the first competition was with TV, then video games), but now in the era of the 'Smart' phone, education has just capitulated.

As an Ummah we are and will lose out a lot in this 'revolution.'  Fewer and fewer Muslims in the general population will have the basics of Islam.  Fewer still will have more advanced knowledge.  I believe this is the single greatest threat to our future in the coming centuries.  Think about what you see now with the low attention spans of our youth, which are much lower than your own generation.  Imagine twenty years from now when books disappear and are rendered into quick summaries people can peruse on their devices. 

Where there is a lack of sustained reading, there is a lack of deep thought. 

I would love to see the Ummah discuss this issue.  I would counsel all of us to think about the ramifications for the future.  How many of our great books will not make the transition to digital?  How little about Islam will our future generations know?  May Allah help us to put down our Smartphones and read a book, for the Prophet praised this activity, and there is a reason for it.

May Allah help us will all the above issues, and help us talk about these things with respect and fairness.  Differences of opinion can be a blessing, if it all leads to respect and obedience to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds. 

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