Oh My Soul!

By Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

Islam, a religion of spiritual nourishment and enlistment, a body of laws that caters in essence for the soul while not neglecting the needs of the mind and the body, a religion whose every action – both mandatory and optional, is geared towards the near vicinity to Allah (swt). For every action that we perform, we are reminded of the need to be accounted for in this world and the hereafter. The battle against the soul is as continuous as the process of life itself.

The behavioural science theory of the Id, Ego and the Super Ego, may not be any different between the three types of nafs that the Holy Scripture talks about – Nafse Ammara, Nafse Lawwaama and Nafse Mutmainna, but the appreciation, regardless of one”s faith in the theory of creation or of evolution, remains that a person lives his life embroiled in a constant tug of war between the mind and the soul. As the month of Safar begins and we continue mourning, not the physical or material loss of the Holy Imam and his family and friends, but the act of betrayal by the Muslims, the usurping of the Holy Prophet (saw)’s teachings and values by tyrant forces, the inhumanity demonstrated by mundane leaders and our absence from assisting the cause of Allah (swt), we must throw a second glance at our living, and whether we are taking the required control over our soul and its caprices, or are we victim to the whims of a world that is increasingly promoting material, physical and shameful culture. There is no question of subjectivity or relativity here, because as Muslims, the basic laws remain the same regardless of passage of time. The consistency of, say, alcohol remaining haraam or that of sexual indecency being prohibited has remained a constant, rather than a variable that modern living requires us to adapt to.

Are we, for instance, throwing lavish ceremonies and living in outward luxury when the mass of population remains starved and deprived? Are we misusing our power whether economical, political or otherwise social? Are we in charge, or is it the psychologists’ id and ego that er in control? Questions we need to ask, answers we need to seek. A leaf from the writings of a celebrated poet Kahlil Gibran is excerpted  to echo a man’s struggle against the waywardness of his soul:

”Why are you weeping, my soul?

Do you know my weekness?

Your tears strike sharp and injure,

For I know not my wrong.

Until when shall you cry?

I have naught but human words

To interpret your dreams,

Your desires and your instruction.

 

Look down upon me my soul: I have

Consumed my full life heeding

Your teachings. Think of how

I suffer! I have exhausted my life following you.

 

My heart was glorifying upon the

Throne, but is now yoked in slavery;

My patience was a companion, but

Now contends against me;

My youth was my hope, but

Now reprimands my neglect.

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Following the Letter

Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

Allah (SWT), with His profound eagerness to guide humankind to eternal prosperity, and to ensure that the species passes the mundane test with flying colours, did not leave any stone unturned when it came to both implicit and explicit instructions in the Holy Qurán. And yet when we often murmur to one another that the Holy Book is a complete code of conduct, we seldom appreciate the weightiness of such a statement.

Using clear instructions and disguised sentences, Allah (SWT) reminds man from start to end, the vitality of eternal salvation over worldly taste and  greed. In typically noteworthy discourses to momineen in Nairobi, Alhaj Mohamedraza Datoo, covering an open-ended subject “Wake Up call”, recently did cover these very pointers with efficiency and fluency. He cited variously the avenues where the Book mentions parables and similes to convey to mankind the issue at hand.

In Sura 5:6, it is stated: “This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the people of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the people of the Book, revealed before your time, when you give them their dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues. If anyone rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).”

A closer look at the extensive verse will reveal various key words (Lawful Food, people of the Book, Chaste Women, Lewdness, Dowry or Bride Price and Faith). It is a fairly light minded verse which does not require much interpretation by a cleric. Even then, if Muslims, on one hand proclaiming unanimous love for Qur’an, indulge in the very things that have been categorically mentioned in such a verse, what would be one’s judgement about Muslims? This verse is just one example where we choose to exercise oblivion to the teachings of the Lord. Perhaps, most of the time, many do not even know that even such things have been mentioned.

And that is alas the biggest tragedy of our generation. Muslims themselves, having failed to learn and practice their own religion, have surrendered willfully to the vicious practices of the materialistic kingdoms of our time. When Muslims suffer at the hands of their own brethren, when there is female oppression in Muslims more than in any other religious communities (despite the highest accord of women in Islam more than other schools of faith), and when there is moderation and convenience of practice, why on earth should anyone blame an outsider for their misdemeanors against Islam and Muslims?

Then, on a trip to the UK, tucked away from any gazes, we would partake a big slice off a bif Mac (lawful?), or engage in marriages with members of the idol worshiping sects (People of the Book?), and also prefer more “modern” women over the hijab-donning woman, and expecting lewdness at times (refer the rich Arab society), (Chaste?)

So, what is the bottom line? What is all this hype about blaming outsiders when the real people to blame are we? On the Day of Judgement, there shall surely be an accounting for our active preference of luxury and pleasure of this world, of name and fame here, over any privileges that we so ardently pray for (with understanding?) during the month of Ramadhan after Dua Al Iftitah. Or are there other interpretations, such as the one that we have today seen with Jehad being to destroy and destruct, rather than to struggle and to strive? Do we now see why it is so easy for outsiders to conquer Muslims?

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The Tail and the Head

By Mohamedarif Suleman,

Nairobi, Kenya

Students of African Literature are probably familiar with this analogy depicted in the header above. Whenever it came to the question of the youth, the African sage always remarked whether it was wise to let the young (tail) lead the head (elderly), or whether it was possible. Islamic history teaches us of one such incident when a very young man was called upon to lead a unit in a battle, only to invite the wrath of the well established veterans , who felt incensed that this should even happen given their long experience.

In modern day, the entry level for adulthood has consistently been drawn down, and as a result not only do we have under-10-year-old PhD’s but 20 year olds who earn in six figures as well. Our community, like all other peoples of the world, has for time immemorial been trying to deal with the problem of ever-demanding youth. And for the purpose of this discussion, we would as well have to clarify that when we speak of these youths; we normally refer to those under-25, and unmarried generation, for it is nowadays commonplace for over-40s to persist in becoming youths themselves and why not, is age really a state of mind?

R H Lesser in “The Growing Youth” offers an argument of the growing youth who needs to be restrained and directed, “as an animal that must follow his instincts”. But when the animal is mounted upon or controlled, say, by a shepherd, there is a stricter measure in the vanities of the animal. And so by design, a youth must accept that in order for his strength and vigour to be harnessed in the most positive manner, he must encourage the shepherding by an elder person who has passed the very path that he is now walking in amazement. And at the same time, it is the older generation’s responsibility to ensure that such opportunity is not wasted or mistrusted. For if it is, it is adequate to repel any such father- son, mentor- follower relation in future.

The responsibility of such elders is to guide the thought of these young men and women that we are looking up to for tomorrow’s leadership as well as relationship. It is up to the elders to train their thought in trying to assist them evaluate and accept why certain Islamic or even Indian traditions that we today hold so dear, are in fact in the best interest of the preservation of the family unit, and hence the society.

Last week the popular queen Latifah talk show was aired in the local free-on-air channels of Nairobi, and the focus was on teens that spoke of their problems with their parents. Most children, it appeared wanted understanding from their parents regarding matters affecting their lives. Nothing wrong about that, in fact a very healthy and important essence of their lives. The only problem was that they were seeking understanding for the sins and crimes that they had committed. Girls were feeling guilty for having had premarital sex. But they were not feeling so because they committed social offence, but rather that they really wanted to share the experience with their mothers, but they knew that they would not understand. Boys, who did drugs or got others in trouble, even causing death, were flimsily avoiding the issue with their folks, who they felt would only shout at them. So, all of these young men and women had decided to deal with the situation themselves. This is the kind of paradox that the Western society builds over morality today, that whereas it speaks gloriously about communication being open in their own societies, they have trouble in their own backyard that they are unable to handle. And this would apply to any family that seeks to depart from Islamic teachings in pursuit of some man-defined open communication, flawed and faulty as it may be.

In the end, it would be awful if we did not address a problem that the “heads” themselves create. Leadership by example. If the head does want to lead, it must prove its worthiness. If at the age of 40 plus, it is still wagging and wandering like the uncertain tail, it is creating a leadership vacuum. A father, aged 30, says that he cannot sit in a majlis because (a) it is boring (b) the Urdu is tough (c) another 98 reasons; is not giving much room for preaching and sermons in future. Perhaps that is why the Prophet (SAW) did mention China as the ideal destination for acquisition of knowledge. China would have been boring, and the language should be a tough excuse, plus of course all the other 98 reasons. But do we really care? Then, why are we averse when it comes to the tail leading us? Majlis is just one example, but we do find that we practically live life with a barrage of excuses when it comes to practicing religion or assuming leadership.

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Mind and Our Health

By Mohamedarif Suleman,

Nairobi, Kenya

In various instances, we have been advised by many of our aimmah (AS) that purity of the mind and to train the mind to cherish good, positive and pure thoughts, is perhaps a more important function that we must continuously perform. Niyyat, we are further reminded, is of superlative importance when it comes to the performance of good or bad deeds. Embroidered in this school of thought is the recognition that the mind is the home of all actions and that when we think good thoughts, we will act in a given good manner and that when we house all evil thought, we are bound to act in a certain negative manner. And it therefore follows that looking at a woman (or man) in a lustful manner “which your right hand does not possess” is prohibited because once a person takes the first step of looking, further adulteration of thought will naturally take place. Of course, there is the aspect of developing self control simultaneously with restraint that was discussed lastly.

The mind has strange and very advanced powers, and those engrossed in the study of the mind can very well vouch this fact. Psychologists such as the infamous Sigmund Freud has in many cases advanced theories, some rather absurd, but all that point to the undeniable relation between body and mind, and the circular influence that each has on the other. Much of his work was based on what is now referred to as ego-psychology. This theory insinuates that any single personality is divided into three separate persons, namely the Id, the ego and the super ego. For those not as yet initiated to the definitions, the id is the collective conception of all our primitive instinctive impulses, death on one hand and life on the other; the super ego is that part of the personality which we have developed and shaped after the pattern or example of the authorities which influenced our bringing up, such as the parents or guardians. In simple terms, the id is the brute within a man which is animalistic and basic in nature and is embroiled in a constant struggle of survival, and the super ego is the refined and civilized man within us that strives to conform to norms and to excel in mundane activities and affairs. Both may eventually target the same goal.

Torn between the two is the ego, which not only has to withstand the demands of the instinctive id and to justify itself before the criticisms of the super ego, but it must be in addition take notice of the real possibilities of the outer world; so that the mentally healthy ego adapts itself in three directions and has to bring the three principles of pleasure, reality and morals into harmonious relations. Freud called these conditions psychoses.

Based on the above premise, we come to define terms such as ‘’amentia’’, where reality is denied completely (ego is not in control, super ego rules). For example, the death of a loved person is simply not recognized. Or we have ‘’schizophrenia’’ in which the interest of the outer world is directed inwards. The outer world is falsified so far as it is necessary to make it compatible with the demands of the id and the super ego.

And so if the mind is potently divisive in its substance, there is really no wonder why Islam, through regulated and balanced lifestyle succeeds in keeping the naturally opposing forces of the mind in perfect harmony. Through recitation of duas and the Holy Quran, which yield a person to the realities of life and death, thereby putting an end to the struggle for survival and instead assisting in the surrender to death, through the exemplary Ahadith of the lives of our aimmah and through the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (SAW), that collectively prescribe a common code of public and private etiquette so that there is an end to the human restlessness in achieving worldly gains at the expense of mental and physical health, Islam surely attempts to reconcile these three separate chambers of our minds. And lastly, as we keep remembering the names of Allah (SWT) during this Holy month, our hearts, which are probably likened to Freud’s Id, are as well put to rest.

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The role of Ahadith in our lives

By Mohamedarif Suleman,

Nairobi, Kenya

Sociologists and theologists of our time will be hand to attest to the fact that centuries ago, in ancient Egypt, and in other early civilizations, when the need for human beings to seek from and to communicate with a higher being outgrew a certain limit, members of such civilizations took to idols and other Gods in order that they may fulfill these intrinsic needs. The scene is much different today, although it will not be wrong to assume that we are experiencing a dangerous cyclical turn back to the age of darkness. We have the most advanced in science and technology, but our minds are regressing at a rate greater than the speed of light. We are living in an age whereby all wrong will be legitimized and there will be little influence that we will have onto the rest of the world owing to our religiousness. We will be isolated as conformists or even fundamentalists. Twice in a week, a brother or sister living in Nairobi and probably watching news coverage of the BBC World Service. He or she may have heard on two occasions stories related to fay culture and homosexuality. In a wedding night Majlis, Br Khalil Jaffer narrated the plight in Canada whereby same sex marriages are now commonplace. He was abundant in speech in describing the vagaries of such acceptance. In one of the BBC’s news services earlier this week, the announcement that Germany had now given legal status to homosexual marriage, was even disturbing. The accompanying clip covered female couples rejoicing and the leader of the Green Party empathetically saying that when the reality of the world was that men loved men and women liked women, why should governments not recognize this fact. This Stage is different, but centuries ago, a similar community with similar pervert sexual preferences, was met with the wrath of the Supreme Being in whose search many have slipped from the truth.

As we bask in the glory of the presence of a religion with abundant guidance and comprehensible principles for all generations, we must acknowledge the powerful role that the ahadith of our Aimmah (AS) plays in showing us the light and giving us solace in an era where little looks hopeful. So when an aimmah tells us “Beware, do not backbite. Refrain from backbiting for it is worse than adultery,” we are indirectly being told that if adultery is that bad, gossiping is worse. We are constantly reminded that our deeds are accountable. How much we derive from the strengths of such traditions remains to be seen. In giving our lives added meaning, and in discouraging the association of religious with endless worship, another tradition comes to the aid, “Anyone who strives to earn a livelihood of his family gets thawaab of engaging in Jihaad in the way of Allah (SWT)”. This is another of those traditions that uses similes of association in trying to convey to us the message or significance of an action. It tells us that religion recognizes your social responsibility and in fact incorporates it to the extent that it allocates good deeds against it. How much we reap from this tradition is yet questionable as we reduce the “thawaab” terminology to an absolute redundancy. Yet another of those gems comes to play in our mundane living we are told that “If a person fasts during days and worships during nights but he harasses his neighbors, he will go to hell”. Islam involves itself in our domestic living and invigorates goodness in us unlike the contemporary world whose only subject of discussion now pertains to sex and sexual preferences. And yet to we ever pay homage to these highly meaningful traditions that actually illuminate our paths each day of our lives? That, in short, is the role that these traditions must play in our societies and that is the role that our leaders and preachers, our parents and scholars must jointly exhibit and adhere to.

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