Tuesday, May 27, 2003

What is the Reality?

Dear Readers,

Religion is too complicated. Particularly, all the nifty-bitty rituals, the long frightening sermons of the Rabbis, Priests and Imams, the violent descriptions of hell-fire, and apparent heavy-handed approach toward progress and modernity by the overtly guarded religionists, are a big turn off. For many Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus and other religionists and non-believers, the experiences are similar. There are the mind-boggling rituals that have become the priority for many world-class religions over spirituality.

Recently, Islam has come under attack from various quarters. The political instability of our world, terrorism and war-guised-terrorism are making the tolerant groups become intolerant, polarized groups are quite common now.

Like all the other major religions, Islam has appeal that helped millions of people embrace it, and for many it may need reform, especially, regarding all those painstaking rituals. Islam’s reform perhaps will come from within itself, from its devoted followers who are open-minded enough to question intolerance shown by outrageous Mullahs and Ayatollahs and their under-whelming guidance toward peaceful spirituality.

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq is a devoted Muslim with open-mind and unlike other closed-minded religionists, he is not afraid to ask relevant questions. In his recent article that was published in IslamiCity web site (http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IC0304-1938 ) and also favorably referred to in an article published in MSNBC, ( http://www.msnbc.com/news/915698.asp?0dm=C12RO ) the writer raised some urgent issues that tolerant Muslims need to look at carefully.

Here is one excerpt: “As I look around me I see futile discussions taking place that have very little to do with the essence of Islam. A peek into my e-mailbox and I see Muslims arguing on a major Islamic list-server, whether Ameen should be said loud or silently in prayers. Yes, prayer is fundamental to Islam and praying in a manner consistent with the Prophet's is important, but must the Muslims bicker about such details - and for centuries?”

Yes, this type of bickering is huge turn off for many. The valuable energies of Muslims are getting wasted on the fruitless discussions of saying “Ameen” loudly or silently.

Another excerpt: “Islam the religion of peace is not experiencing peace anywhere. Muslim nation-states are not at peace internally or externally. Muslim people are not at peace with themselves. Mosques, Muslim communities and organizations are not at peace among themselves. The Muslims are among those in the world with the highest illiteracy, poverty, infant mortality, insecurity and so on. That is an unfortunate reality. But is an over emphasis on all the ritual details the way to prepare for the ultimate reality, we all as human beings, must contend with?”

Dr. Farooq is right on this point. One may seriously ask why is the “religion of peace” Islam “not experiencing peace anywhere”? What are the causes and what are the necessary solutions? All these painful negatives piling in the Muslim nations like “highest illiteracy, poverty, infant mortality, insecurity”, why this is so? Is this only misfortune? Can Muslims leave their current miserable conditions only on “fate” or similar intangible faith-based abstracts?

Yes, many may argue that Muslim nations suffered immeasurable pains under centuries old appalling colonialism; they were subjected to wars and foreign aided disastrous interventions. But can the Muslim nations wash their hands off their own responsibilities? Can they ignore their own lackadaisical approach in this increasingly competitive world?

Dr. Farooq writes, “Muslim understanding and practices are overshadowed by excessive ritualization and legalism, ignoring moral, behavioral and attitudinal dimensions.” Can this be one of the reasons that Muslim nations are so far behind in the world stage? What purpose “excessive ritualization and legalism” serve other than thwarting the progress?

Another excerpt: ”our focus seems to be on those details of the religion on the basis of which we have entertained schism to the extent that in many cases Muslims are not safe from the hands and tongues of even fellow Muslims.” – and indeed so. It is the fellow Muslims who are the harshest critiques of other “lesser” Muslims, men or women. The division in gender, the overemphasis on veiling women from head to toe; trying to keeping them caged to serve the purpose of domineering men, what earthly or heavenly good purposes do they serve?

“As much emphasis Muslims put on fighting (much of which is among themselves), so little emphasis is placed on positively touching others' lives.” – only if Muslims could change this literal “fighting” mentality!

Before and after the two world wars of the last centuries, Jews had suffered tremendously; horrendous Nazis put millions of them to death; there were even rampant anti-Jewish feelings in the West as well for many centuries. But the Jewish people, with most of their devotion (Revision: exclude Ariel Sharon and arch conservatives like him) to education, business, technologies and overall modernity, they had surmounted the impossible. Now the top notch thinkers, scientists, artists, historians, educators, writers are composed of many Jewish talents. Their dedication and hard work had worked for the betterment of the whole world, including their communities.

Perhaps it is high time for Muslims to have similar earth-moving introspection. Rather than wasting energies in futile violence, terrorism, fighting against other Muslims or other religionists, the pain, anguish, sufferings and humiliations that the billions of Muslims are going through now, perhaps they can transform their pain into positive inspiration; anguish into building blocks of future success stories; sufferings and humiliations into historical anecdotes for the coming generations to learn from them, to build their backward nations and frustrated individuals into dynamic force well prepared for a competitive world.

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq’s article “What is the Reality” is thoroughly piercing and full of compassions. Interpretations of Religion or Non-Religion do not need to be a huge turn off for the future generations. These must be tolerant, appealing and inspirational as the time and world progress.

The article “What is the Reality” is attached below for your review.

Regards,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 27, 2003


What is the Reality?
4/21/2003 - Religious Social - Article Ref: IC0304-1938
Number of comments: 134
By: Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
IslamiCity* -



Art work by rbstudios.com


"The Reality! What is the Reality? And what will make you realize what the Reality is?" These are the opening verses of Surah al-Haqqa - 69, in the Quran.

These are verses that jolt one's slumped consciousness with a conscious attempt to recalibrate it with the reality. I realize that my eyes are open - they usually are. But the eyes of my mind were shuttered. All the blessings that our Benevolent Lord bestowed upon me, all the knowledge and wisdom I gained, all the friends and well-wishers I have been blessed with; yet as a human being I am so laden with my failures, with my inability to keep engaged my consciousness. Aware that my consciousness can slump sporadically, I need that awakening jolt intermittently: "The reality! What is the Reality? ..."

As I look around me I see futile discussions taking place that have very little to do with the essence of Islam. A peek into my e-mailbox and I see Muslims arguing on a major Islamic list-server, whether Ameen should be said loud or silently in prayers. Yes, prayer is fundamental to Islam and praying in a manner consistent with the Prophet's is important, but must the Muslims bicker about such details - and for centuries?

I see Islamic magazines that are constantly reminding their beloved Muslim brethren and sisters about the innovations (Bid'at) in Islam and the utterly serious consequence of such things in the life hereafter. Yes, Muslims must be on guard about innovations in the beliefs or rituals, but even this constant reminder about innovation might be an innovation in itself, as the Prophet did not do it this way. Moreover, innovation in another - technological - sense is an imperative in our contemporary time. Is it any wonder that a society that is constantly reminded against "innovations" would have its overall ability to innovate stifled?

I hear from the Friday pulpits how women must cover their head so that not even a single hair strand would show. Observance of Islamic guidance in every aspect is important. Interestingly, it seems when it comes to admonishing the women and ensuring that they "remain in line" with God's wishes, we may be over-ambitiously animated and vigilant. The Hijab may have been a mainstay in Khutbah, but seldom have I heard any citation from the Quran that pays tribute to the "fighting" women! - And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or FEMALE: Ye are members, one of another: Those who have left their homes, or been driven out there from, or suffered harm in My Cause, or FOUGHT or been slain,- verily, I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath;- A reward from the presence of Allah, and from His presence is the best of rewards." Quran 3:195

I observe children being rebuked in Mosques because they are deemed as having absolutely no respect for the stern, loud, deafening, frightening Khutbahs that even the adults have difficulty to feel drawn to. Yes, children should be educated about how to conduct themselves at different places, but do we ever think that some of these kids may develop a bad impression about their visit to Mosques and later our lack of tolerance for their childlike conduct may wither their attachment to Mosque? What is our priority?

I visit websites that are dedicated to drawing up long lists of select Muslim groups who would not be saved. Yes, believing things correctly and doing things properly are important. Yet, the Quran is so categorical against divisiveness and judgmentalism. Quran 23:52-53.

I come across pulp-literature about Islam in various parts of the Muslim world that lists one hundred twenty-four or thirty-two Fards (the obligatory) in Islam, where the list includes believing in the four madhabs (Islamic school of thought) constituting four fards. Of course, I myself don't know this list of Fards in entirety. Notably, attachment to a specific Madhab is merely coincidental through our birth and neither the Prophet nor his companions knew anything about any Madhab at all.


Art work by rbstudios.com


There is a positive side to all this. Essentially, most of these people are trying to prepare for that ultimate achievement, the salvation (Falah). Most of them are probably trying their best according to what they have been culturally conditioned to believe as essential to their salvation. However, something may have gone awry. Islam the religion of peace is not experiencing peace anywhere. Muslim nation-states are not at peace internally or externally. Muslim people are not at peace with themselves. Mosques, Muslim communities and organizations are not at peace among themselves. The Muslims are among those in the world with the highest illiteracy, poverty, infant mortality, insecurity and so on. That is an unfortunate reality. But is an over emphasis on all the ritual details the way to prepare for the ultimate reality, we all as human beings, must contend with?

If salvation or that Reality is of utmost concern to us, it seems that Muslims in general may have their priorities mixed up. Indeed, Muslims have largely lost their attachment to a pivotal Islamic precept: balance and moderation. After all, an important distinction of this Ummah is that it is the balanced Ummah (Ummatau wasat). Quran 2:143

Muslim understanding and practices are overshadowed by excessive ritualization and legalism, ignoring moral, behavioral and attitudinal dimensions. The Quran reminds us to keep our priority straight and balanced by focusing on major sins, so that Allah will wipe out our smaller transgressions or errors [Quran 4:31]; yet we just can't get over our predilection with too much detail.

Because of one single Hadith - and even that is of questionable reliability - which says "... that nation will not prosper which puts a woman in command of its affairs" [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5-709], most overstretched and restrictive rulings have been established about leadership. On the other hand, the Prophet said: "RUINED are those who indulge in hair-splitting" [Sahih Muslim; Vol. 4-6450], yet our focus seems to be on those details of the religion on the basis of which we have entertained schism to the extent that in many cases Muslims are not safe from the hands and tongues of even fellow Muslims. We have even forgotten the stern warning from the Prophet : "A person who would be thoroughly scrutinized (on the Day of Judgment by Allah) is ruined" [Hadhrat Aisha, Sahih Muslim, 6874], yet we have the most passionate obsession with scrutinizing others, especially in terms of minute details.

Lest we misunderstand, personal devotion to details is the beauty of a person's personal faith and commitment, like anyone presenting himself or herself to his or her lover in the most beautiful way. After all, Allah wants our relationship to be elevated to the level of love. Doesn't he? "... those of Faith are overflowing in their LOVE for Allah" [Quran 2:165] "Say: "If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [Quran 3:31] Allah is supposed to be more loving than mothers are to their children [Riyadus Saleheen, 418].

Relationship of love is such that it can't be based on "hair-splitting" details. In loving relationships, so many things are not even spoken, but understood. Interestingly, in relationships of love, there are times when the passion of love clouds our communication - the right words are lost - but that is the language of love.

The matter of not letting our love for the Deen and the Sunnah turn into hair-splitting obsession is not merely an academic or polemical issue. One can see the effects in various parts of the Muslim world. In some countries, people have general security of their lives, but only under un-Islamic autocratic or monarchial rule.

Another major phenomenon of a Muslim society is that, parallel to overemphasis on details, there is also an overemphasis on forms rather than substance. Many times we come across heated exchange - to put it mildly - about whether it is all right to sleep between Tahajjud and Fajr prayer! Frequently, we come across abusive discussions in magazines or online, for example, as to whether Dua Qunut should be offered before, or after, Ruku in Witr prayer. Some discussions are, of course, never-ending, such as is it alright to raise hands while making dua. All these continue unabated over centuries and generations, while the Prophet has taught in unambiguous term that "Verily Allah does not look to your appearance or wealth, but he looks to your hearts and your deeds." [Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, 6221].

Yes, the overemphasis on legalism has robbed us of our manners and characters - actually, a good deal of our humanity, even though the Prophet has taught: "By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day." [Sunan Abu Dawood, 4780] Indeed, all those who care about the Reality (al-Haqqa) - the ultimate Reality - ought to pay attention to the Prophet's teaching: "There is NOTHING heavier than good character put in the scale of a believer on the Day of Resurrection." [Sunan Abu Dawood, 4781]

So, what can help us deal with the Reality? Apparently, in an ultimate sense, even our good deeds are not going to be of big help. "The deeds of anyone of you will NOT save you (from the Hell Fire)." [Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, 470] This particular Hadith has been very instructional for me, especially for an ordinary Muslim like me, full of failure and shortcomings. I don't know what the hundred fards are. I sometime pray Tarawih (night prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan) twenty rakat and at other times eight. I am not sure that the length of my beard is of appropriate length. Considering all the shortcomings and failures I have, what can I hope for?

Yet, the preceding Hadith gives hope for anyone who can't quite give up hope in the face of the reality. My humble reading of the Prophetic teaching in this context has served as an eye-opener. Through a careful reading of what was available, for example, in Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Muatta and so on, I did not come across a case whereby a person has been saved or forgiven in the ultimate sense for being accurate about ritual details. However, there are a number of illustrious Hadith that specifically mention cases whereby a particular person has been saved, forgiven, or given entrance to Paradise for acts of kindness. These are mostly cases involving people that we generally won't even think that they have a chance of salvation. Let's briefly look at some of these cases.

"A man NEVER did a good deed but removed a thorny branch from the road; it was either in the tree and someone cut it and threw it on the road, or it was lying on it, he removed it. Allah accepted this good deed of his and brought him into Paradise." [Sunan Abu Dawood; Vol. 3, 5225]

"A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that." [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, 538]

'Aisha reported: A poor woman came to me along with her daughters. I gave her three dates. She gave a date to each of them and then she took up one date and brought that to her mouth in order to eat that, but her daughters expressed desire to eat it. She then divided the date that she intended to eat between them. This (kind) treatment of her impressed me and I mentioned that which she did to Allah's Messenger . Thereupon he said: Verily Allah has assured Paradise for her, because of (this act) of her, or He has rescued her from Hell-Fire. [Sahih Muslim, 6363].


Art work by rbstudios.com


Each of the above cases, there are similarities. None of the people involved are identifiably pious, as in the cases of the man removing the thorn and the prostitute giving water to a thirsty dog. In the case of date-sharing mother, we don't know that she was a pious person. Another similarity is that none of their acts is related to any aqeedah (creed) or rituals. The most important underlying similarity is that their acts, done not consciously thinking about what might be the consequence for the Hereafter, positively and caringly touched someone else's life or was meant to touch. In one case, it involved even a dog. All of these acts were spontaneous moments during which their true humanity, a reflection of God's mercy, found expression through a small, otherwise not so mention worthy, act.

My feeble mind returns to Surah al-Haqqa! Many general things are mentioned in that Surah about many communities that have been destroyed because of their stubborn transgressions. Only one thing that is specifically mentioned is about not feeding the indigent, an act that touches others' lives [verse 34]. In the Quran so many times Amali Salihat (good deeds) has been mentioned, along with with having Iman (faith) as important to a believer's identity and existence. Thinking about virtuous deeds that might be of special importance for our salvation is the fact that most of these are deeds are those that touch others' lives. The above cases seem to suggest a type of deed that touches the life of others, without any regard to whether the people or lives touched were Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, secularists or atheists.

As much emphasis Muslims put on fighting (much of which is among themselves), so little emphasis is placed on positively touching others' lives. Indeed, it seems that to face the Reality, we can use the same kind of touch of Allah's mercy, grace and care that flowed through that mother sharing a date with her daughters, that no-good man who thought of and cared about others to remove a thorny branch from the road, and not the least, that prostitute who helped a dog to quench its thirst. They were not acting with the thought of being a Muslim or a believer. They were acting what humanity in us should prompt. Islam is to bring out in us as human beings. Our personal devotion to details of the Deen must be, according to the clear teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah, be balanced with our recognition of humanness in a broader perspective - rising above parochial ethnic, religious or other boundaries. Thus, in addition to everything that we have been taught to do and we generally do so as Muslims, to face that ultimate Reality, we need this kind of Islamic touch of humanity.

What can we do as individuals to have such Islamic touch? Why don't we all begin by doing a simple thing today.

A Simple Thing Today!

In life so many things to do
And, yes, so many things to say,
I know I can and I really wish
That I also do a simple thing today.

Let me help quench thirst of someone -
Be it a friend, a stranger, or even a dog,
Let me help carry someone
his burden: a box, a load or log.

Let me bring comfort to someone
Or be a helping hand, perchance,
From the road, if I come across,
Let me remove a thorny branch.

Let me speak a hopeful word
Or help someone find his way,
All the things that I do in a day,
O my Lord, let me do a simple thing today.

This amateur poem of mine should remind you of a Hadith. Hadhrat Abu Hurairah relates that the Prophet said: 'Charity is due from every part of a person's body. Every day on which the sun rises, doing justice between two persons is charity; to extend helping had to a person in riding his mount or put his luggage on it is charity; a pleasant word is charity; every step taken to join in the Salat (prayers) is charity; removing anything which causes harm from a path is charity.' [Sahih Muslim, Kitabul Zakah, 2204].


The author is an associate professor of economics and finance at Upper Iowa University. farooqm@globalwebpost.com; http://www.globalwebpost.com/farooqm

http://www.islamicity.com/articles/articles.asp?ref=IC0304-1938&p=1

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