Life’s Illusions

Shaytan is constantly feeding our delusions about the nature of life and indeed, death. I found Terence McKenna’s reflection on his immanent death to be profound:

I always thought death would come on the freeway in a few horrifying moments, so you’d have no time to sort it out. Having months and months to look at it and think about it and talk to people and hear what they have to say, it’s a kind of blessing. It’s certainly an opportunity to grow up and get a grip and sort it all out. Just being told by an unsmiling guy in a white coat that you’re going to be dead in four months definitely turns on the lights. … It makes life rich and poignant. When it first happened, and I got these diagnoses, I could see the light of eternity, a la William Blake, shining through every leaf. I mean, a bug walking across the ground moved me to tears.

Many of us do imagine that death will come upon us at a sudden moment: a car crash, as McKenna states, a robbery, a stroke. And indeed death does visit us in this fashion but the real illusion that McKenna reveals is we can have such reflections anytime we chose while we’re still living. As a Muslim, I should always be engaged in a process of “getting a grip” or “sorting it all out”. That we cannot have such vivid or lucid reflections while living is deception from Shaytan and from ourselves. Viewed from this perspective, reality moves from being a cold, dark and purposeless void to one given warmth, illumination and dignity by the Light of God. So yes, even a bug walking across the ground should move us to tears for a cadre of reasons: the Garden, the Fire, and simply put, the majesty and over-awing reality of la ilaha ill’Allah.

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَالْفُلْكِ الَّتِي تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنْفَعُ النَّاسَ وَمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِنْ كُلِّ دَابَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ وَالسَّحَابِ الْمُسَخَّرِ بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

“In the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and day, and the ships which sail the seas to people’s benefit, and the water which Allah sends down from the sky – by which He brings the earth to life when it was dead and scatters about in it creatures of every kind – and the varying direction of the winds, and the clouds subservient between heaven and earth, there are Signs for people who use their intellect.” Qur’an, 2: 164.

Re-Defining Success For the American Muslim Community

Ultimately the definition of success in the Muslim community has to move beyond the bifurcation of worldly success and Here-After success. We are indeed fooling ourselves if we think one does not contribute to the other, either in a positive way, helping us achieve the Here-After, or in a detrimental way, denying us the Here-After. The illusion that they can be mutually exclusive endeavors shows us just how far we have departed from the spirit of Islam, hence our modern spirituality of no inconveniences. And if we think we have issues with this, image how completely taken and enraptured our children are with this. After all, they aren’t working the 80 hours a week to achieve the house, the spouse, the car, etc. They do not see or experience the means that justify our ends. They only see ends; it’s as natural for them as rain water and thus, nurtured in this environment, they will have few incentives to buck this trend or system.

وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

“Let there be a community among you who call to the good, and enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. They are the ones who have success.” Qur’an, 3: 104.