Requiem For Arrival

“…we do not say that God forces rain to fall, it is not necessary to say that God forces a choice on man.”Ahmad Shafaat

There’s a difference between Allah forcing man to do something all the time and Allah being incapable of forcing His creation to do as He sees fit (determines). — Yours Truly

I, like a lot of Americans who were born in the early seventies, grew up with a love for science-fiction and fantasy. And while I’ve always been a lifelong fan of the genre, I’ve also never been naive of science-fiction’s mythos; a mythos which all too often places its white protagonists (see the trailer for the new Luc Besson film, Valerian) in a world where they are surrounded by aliens (real world “aliens” such as Blacks, Mexicans, Asians, or Muslims, are exchanged for a cast of extraterrestrial characters, often just caricatures of these various ethnic groups), whereupon they are conscripted into a campaign of conquest masked as heroism. This call to heroism is often instigated by a foreign, hostile, “alien” threat, revealing the perspectivism and propaganda being visited upon the entire genre: whites are inherently good, benevolent, courageous and civilized (especially the builders of civilization) and never are the aggressors.

It is for this reason I found Denis’ Villenueve’s adaption of Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life, Arrival, refreshing. I want to pause here before going any further and provide a spoiler alert. If you plan to see the movie and wish to savor the plot, then stop reading here, go see the movie, and then resume!

Arrival is a quiet, cerebral and engaging film. While it has many of the typical props any good science-fiction movie will have (space ships, a secretive government and military, aliens, spooky music, etc.) it does manage to avoid some common tropes (such as the white savior or feminist-ninja-syndrome recently on tap in The Force Awakens). Its visuals are striking and yet still allows for the well-written and for the most part, well acted characters to shine through.

So why am I, an Imam, and self-confessed lover of cheesy sci-fi, praising Arrival? Because it reveals, for me as a Muslim, some really good tidbits for thought, particularly on the subjects of determinism, agency, and rida’/ridwan (being pleased with what Allah decrees). I feel these are three issues that many Muslims today struggle with and even more so after the apparent victory of the GOP in the United States 2016 Presidential election. The question can be asked: with the GOP/white supremacists (so-called “alt-right”) in power, are Muslims bound (determined) to a horrible fate in America or do they posses agency—the power—if not to change the conditions of reality to their suiting, then to change their dispositions towards trying to achieve that which is pleasing to Allah? Can Muslims, despite these challenges, still live full, meaningful lives? According to Arrival, yes, we can.

Arrival plays with time, a hallmark in the sci-fi genre. In this case, it asks some poignant questions about fate, intention, and turns the understanding many of us have: if we had knowledge of what happens in the future and the past, we would doubtless change our actions to suit a more favorable reality. Louise Banks (portrayed by Amy Adams), Arrival’s protagonist, suffers an emotionally crippling blow at the film’s beginning with the death of her daughter who passed away in early childhood from a rare type of cancer. This leaves Banks emotionally “limited” for much of the film; she is highly intelligent, analytical, but also crushed by the death of her daughter. Through Banks’ encounter with an alien species who have come to the earth in mysterious obelisk-like space vessels, she comes to an alternative and non-linear understanding of time.

Arrival’s aliens (whose alien-ness*, amongst other things, is conveyed through their complex and nonlinear form of language) allow Banks to perceive the meaning of her child’s death, not through the lens of entitlement but through the lens of experience. How often, in the vernacular of our own cultural myths, do we hear the phrase, “so-and-so died too early”, or so-and-so is “gone too soon”. One could, in an attempt to validate such statements, say that they’re merely defensive mechanisms, articulated through our confrontation with the mortality of our loved ones, and ultimately with our own. I would not argue with such explanations, but given Islam’s stance towards death—and how it pushes us to accept the fate of others—I was pleased to see how Louise Banks ultimately reconciles her trauma by seeing that what was most important in her relationship with her daughter was not simply to extend the lifespan of her child’s life, but was to fully experience it. In moments of clairvoyance dispersed throughout the film, Banks ultimately comes to see that though she is powerless to change her child’s fate (the result of a genetic abnormality passed on to her daughter from her husband, Ian) she wouldn’t trade being Hannah’s mother for anything, even if she had to experience her death again. This is further emphasized at the film’s conclusion when it is explained who Hannah’s father is (Ian – played by Jeremy Renner); it was through Louise’s and Ian’s collaboration on the alien project that they fall in love. Had Louise not fallen in love with Ian, she’d never have married him and thus become Hannah’s mother, an experience too powerful and to meaningful to give up simply because she could not control it and the pain and difficulty she will experience. In my opinion this metaphor makes Arrival a very powerful film. It demonstrates the power of meaning and also lays bare the powerlessness we humans truthfully have over our fates. The question Arrival begs is, “are we willing to give up  meaning for security?”. We Muslims would echo what Allah says in the Qur’an,

فَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَن يَشاءُ وَيَهدي مَن يَشاءُ ۚ وَهُوَ العَزيزُ الحَكيمُ

“Allah misguides anyone He wills and guides anyone He wills. He is the Almighty, the All-Wise.” Qur’an, 14: 4

…meaning that we do not have ultimate control over reality but we do have control over our disposition towards it and most importantly, towards Allah. If I may take creative license, Louise Banks essentially submits to the Will of Allah: she accepts the fate of her child to die in childhood; unarguably a grievous thing to experience, by submitting, whereby she relieves a great burden upon her heart all the while knowing full-well (a result of the nonlinear alien language which Louise learns and thus learns of her child’s fate) she will have to relive and re-experience her child’s death again.

Arrival is a quiet, cerebral science-fiction story that serves up a lot of food for thought; there are aliens but no explosions. Space ships but no laser cannons. Yet despite the absence of these I am left feeling more hopeful and energized about my own prospects, not because I can do anything about them, but because I feel inspired to do something about my attitude towards the One Who Created them.

* Hat tip to the visual creators of Arrival for choosing their aliens to be cephalopods. Having grown up on Lovecraftian short stories of alien creatures with squid-like features was, I felt, a well-deserved nod to H. P. Lovecraft.

Disciplining the Soul to "Return Pleased and Well Pleasing"

First Khutbah – Main Points

كل نفس ذائقة الموت ونبلوكم بالشر والخير فتنة

“Every soul shall taste death. And We shall test you by evil and good means as a trial.” [al-Anbiya’ 21: 35]

On the grand scale of things, Islam is about the worship of God. But when we look at Allah’s Book, the Holy Qur’an, Allah presents an over-awing framework by which through our brains and our hearts, we might come to know Him and submit willingly [أسلم]. We only need listen to His Call:

والله يدعوا إلى دار السلام ويهدى من يشاء إلى صراط مستقيم

“And it is God that calls to the Abode of Peace, guiding as God wills, to a straight path.” [Yunis 10: 25]

Whether we attempt to thwart God’s proclivity [الشريعة] in This Life, we shall be held accountable for what we have said and done and ultimately, even if only by our very createdness, we shall submit.

يسبح لله ما في السموت وما في الأرض له الملك وله الحمد وهو على كل شيء قدير

“Everything in the heavens and the earth negates the possibility of any god other than Allah. The dominion belongs to Him as well as all praise. And He has power over all things.” [al-Tagabun 64: 1]

Submission is an ongoing process. In order to facilitate this, God has provided for us His Signs, which unfurl like a ship’s sail before a steady wind:

خلق الإنسان من عجل سأوريكم ءايتي فلا تستعجلون

“Mankind was created hasty. I shall show you My Signs so do hasten.” [al-Anbiya’ 21: 37]

So when Bani adam steps back to look at the Big Picture, ease [سعادة] and certainty [يقين] can enter into the heart and life’s apparent randomness takes on a shape and form of meaning and purpose:

ونبلوكم بالشر والخير فتنة

“And We shall test you by evil and good means as a trial.” [al-Anbiya’ 21: 35]

Second Khutbah – Main Points

So how do we attain this happiness, this certainty, this insight?

It involves struggling against one’s own soul. Ibn ‘Abbas [rah] reports, that the Prophet [s] said:

أعدى عدوك نفسك التي جنبينك

“The most ardent enemy is your own soul [nafs], which is between your two sides.” [al-Bayhaqi]

This is similar to what Allah tells us in the chapter Yusuf, when Prophet Yusuf/Joseph [عليه السلام] said concerning the governor’s wife when she tried to seduce him:

وما أبرئ نفسى إن النفس لأمارة بالسوء إلا ما رحم ربي إن ربي غفور رحيم

“I do not say my soul [nafs] was free from blame. The self indeed commands to evil acts – except for those my Lord has mercy on. My Lord, He is Forgiving, Merciful.” [Yusuf 12: 53]

To be sure, it is exceedingly difficult to achieve this state of tranquility, happiness, and certainty. The modern cultures are hostile to the development of these qualities, as This Life constantly seeks to distract us. For this reason, we must strive to devote ourselves to God, remembering Him always:

يأيها الذين ءامنوا ادخلوا في السلم كافة ولا تتبعوا في خطوت الشيطان إنه لكم عدو مبين

“O’ you of faith!, enter into Islam completely and do not follow in the footsteps of Shaytan. He is an open enemy to you.” [al-Baqarah 2: 208]

In this way, Allah further reveals our own devious nature in that we often attempt to evade our responsibilities towards Allah, such as showing gratitude, etc.

Islam reconciles the seemingly opposed aspects of the wayward self:

ألنفس الأمارة بالسوء

And the soul at rest:

يأيتها النفس المطمئنة ارجعى إلى ربك راضية مرضية

By coming to see this aspect of our relationship with Allah—The Big Picture—we foster a greater sense of realization [يقين-معرفة] of our purpose in life:

ما خلقت الجن والإنس إلا ليعبدون

“I did not create the Jinn or mankind except that they are to worship Me.” [al-Baqarah 2: 208]

and …

الذين يذكرون الله قياما وقعودا وعلى جنوبهم ويتفكرون في خلق السموت والأرض ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك فقنا عذاب النار

“Those who remember God standing, sitting and laying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth [utter], ‘O our Lord, You have not created all this in jest, how perfect You are, so protect us from the torment of the Fire.” [al-‘Imran 3: 191]

Endeavor to restrain your souls, and the Ultimate reward will be yours:

وأما من خاف مقام ربه ونهى النفس عن الهوى فإن الجنة هى المأوى

“For the one who fears the Station of his Lord and denies the appetites of the lower self, the Garden will be his refuge.” [al-Nazi’at 79: 40-1]

Finally, in the advice of our Beloved Prophet [s]:

حاسبوا أنفسكم قبل أن تحاسبوا ووزنوا أعمالكم قبل أن توزن عليكم

“Take account of yourselves before you are held to account and weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you.” [al-Tirmidhi’s al-Qiyamah]

Download the khutbah, Discipline the Soul to “Return Pleased and Well Pleasing” here.

Listen online now

[audio:http://www.marcmanley.com/media/mp3s/khutbah_upenn-7-16-2010.mp3|titles=Disciplining the Soul to “Return Pleased and Well Pleasing” by Marc Manley]

The Danger of Procrastination

 قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم تقبل توبة العبد ما لم يغرغر أخرجه الترمذي وابن الماجه

The Prophet [صلى الله عليه وسلم] said: “The slave’s repentance is accepted until he gives the death rattle.” Transmitted to us by the authority of al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.

Imam al-Ghazali relates to us from the Revival of the Religious Sciences, Ihya’ Ulum al-Din, from the book: The Remembrance of Death and The Afterlife, by which he conveys for us the nature of a dying man: He peers out on the world and its people for one last time while the door of repentance is closed for good. In doing so, he is overcome with sorrow and remorse.

Pessimism, Skepticism, and Despair in Early 20th Century England — A Reading of Mrs. Dalloway

The early part of the Twentieth Century saw England as the major super power in the world. During this time, England ascended to the height of its imperial powers, with its grasp and influence worldwide. A phrase was even coined in recognition of this fact: “The Empire on which the sun never sets”. And yet despite England’s great power, its citizenry was undergoing a dramatic paradigm shift on several fronts: religious, psychological, and epistemological, to name a few. Post World War I, life in England would never be the same as people came face to face with not just the imagery of war, but also living with its aftermath: the mentally and physically wounded. Writing from this era reflected the changing and uncertain nature of this time. Mrs. Dalloway showcases this conflict on both social and individual levels. From disenchantment of social expectations to the inability to see the good in humanity, Virginia Woolf demonstrates the loss of meaning through the internalization of the self, a literary process that confines the “knowing” aspect of the self to what lies behind the senses. In doing so, none of the characters in Mrs. Dalloway are able to find any transcendent meaning beyond themselves, instead succumbing to an anguish and lethargy which ultimately consumes them.

The notion of a lost self is readily immanent in Woolf’s story, for she titles the book, “Mrs. Dalloway”. Woolf’s purposeful omission of Clarissa’s first name in the title makes a clear statement on how Clarissa sees herself and how she has lost her autonomy as a person. She is exhibited as an addendum; a reference to her husband. In two short words, Woolf establishes the link between Clarissa’s role as wife and how that role defines her throughout the novel. Woolf’s choice of “Mrs. Dalloway” or “Mrs. Richard Dalloway” illustrates the loss of self that Clarissa has suffered (Forbes 39). To help elucidate, this short passage drives home the point: “She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown “¦ this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway” (Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway 10-11). The last act that Clarissa makes as a fully-autonomous person was her refusal to marry Peter Walsh (Woolf 46).

The commentary in Mrs. Dalloway on the self is not restricted to its inability to act upon the world, but also looks at how the self, both by its inability to project itself on and in the world, suffers from isolation and despair. Perhaps the most tragic character in the novel is Septimus Smith, who is tortured by his wartime experience. Having seen the realities of war up close, Septimus’ view of humanity has become dark. Once an aspiring poet, he now sees human nature as bankrupt and cruel. However, the most unique aspect about Septimus’ view on human nature is its active observation. For Septimus, human nature is not a passive enterprise. It is, as he states, “Once you stumble, Septimus wrote on the back of a postcard, human nature is on you.” (Woolf 92). The viewpoint being expressed here, though dramatized through Septimus’ mental instability, sees human nature as not just predatory, but separate from humans themselves. According to Septimus, human nature is an entity unto itself, stalking man, and waiting for an opportunity to pounce. His character drives home the perception that the self is wholly separate from its environment and even from itself (human nature).

Woolf’s setting also articulate an atmosphere of isolation and solitude. This sentiment is expressed as a doom: “and yet “¦ feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen” (Woolf 3). The preceding quote is in the opening dialog that is going on inside Clarissa’s head. It speaks to the isolation as expressed by Clarissa as well as Septimus, who feels, “quite alone” (Woolf 92). Often, this despair of isolation is expressed through the disjointed thoughts and ramblings of Clarissa. In one such passage, Clarissa begins by recollecting a time that she and Peter Walsh went in to London together but injects mid-thought, “It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; no knowing people; not being known” (Woolf 152). The same paragraph strays into thoughts about transcendental theories and how her soul might come to, “haunt certain places after death” (Woolf 153). This disjointed narrative style, reinforcing the isolation that Clarissa and the other characters experience, echoes what Erich Auerbach says about Woolf’s prose: “[It] is often something confusing, something hazy “¦ [a] vague indefinability of meaning” (Auerbach 551). I will next demonstrate how Woolf’s stream of conscious contributes to the sense of pessimism and despair in Mrs. Dalloway.

Virginia Woolf’s narrative style, stream of conscious, does not simply serve to provide an alternate form of writing dialog. It has a very precise purpose, namely the continued deconstruction of reality throughout Mrs. Dalloway. What I mean here is that the prose goes beyond just illustrating the words that Clarissa is thinking. By mixing all of her thoughts together “thoughts that include the recollected thoughts of other characters or even the thoughts of those characters (Septimus is one example)” the reader is never able to firmly establish any sense of reality outside of the characters. Reality has become firmly contingent upon the interlocutors’ circumstances and tonality, not, as Auerbach describes, “on form” (Auerbach 535). I see this as another literary technique to further distance the self from the world. In writing about twentieth-century art, Bryan Appleyard writes in his Understanding the Present, regarding this subject: “The symptoms of this lethargy are all about us. The pessimism, anguish, skepticism and despair of so much twentieth-century art and literature are expressions of the fact that there is nothing “big” worth talking about anymore, there is no meaning to be elucidated.” (Appleyard 11). What I take from Appleyard’s observation is thus: Woolf’s characters, while differing slightly from Appleyard’s observation (talking incessantly), are unable to come to any “continuity of action” (Auerbach 552); their dialog is helpless to affect or impact their world in such a way as serving any of the characters’ needs. What we are left with, as the reader, is only, “an appreciation of the multiple enmeshments of the motifs” (Auerbach 551).

There are numerous consequences of retracting the self from the world. One such example as expressed in the novel is the delusion of the self. This self-deception is more than a fabricated lie that the characters tell themselves, but rather the process of deconstructing and diminishing the possibility of any external reality. Ironically, this process relies upon the very same external influences it is trying to deny, by mimicking them for appropriate such notions of reality. To help clarify my point I will provide a few examples from the text. As Clarissa stands by herself one night in reflection, she imagines herself, as Deborah Guth declares it, “a martyr” (Guth 35). In Woolf’s words, she describes Clarissa as, “a single figure against the appalling night” (Woolf 30). In another instance, Clarissa recalls an instance when she was feeding ducks at the lake, where she, “stood by the lake, holding her life in her arms which, as she neared them [her parents], grew larger and larger in her arms, until it became a whole life, a complete life” (Woolf 43).

Perhaps the best example to illuminate this point is the death of Septimus. Clarissa absolves her grief over Septimus’ death by proposing some noble cause in his suicide. Her question, “did he plunge holding his treasure?” (Woolf 184), does not find any reference in the words or sentiments Septimus uttered in the storyline. In fact, it is entirely plausible to say that Septimus had not truly wanted to kill himself: “He did not want to die. Life was good. The sun hot” (Woolf 143). I say all of this in support of this theory: the retracted-self, in being incapable of seeing itself as a part of the external world, will seek to create an image of itself through the process of self-invention, not self-discovery. Clarissa, pondering if Septimus took his treasure with him, has more to do with her fear of death and her attempt to ascribe meaning on to both life and death. In other words, Clarissa seeks to use Septimus’ death, through the process of self-invention, to transcend the lack of meaning she is incapable of finding in the external world.

The retracted-self of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway finds its perceptions of the external world increasing inhospitable and incompatible. Where Clarissa was once a student of poetry she hardly reads at all anymore, “except memoirs in bed” (Woolf 8). Likewise, Peter Walsh’s early fascination with eighteenth-century rationalists (Addison, Pope) has fallen by the wayside. Again, the most convincing example is Septimus. For a man whose life was literature, and whose guiding purpose in volunteering for the war effort was, “to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare’s plays” (Woolf 86). In their respective pasts, Woolf’s characters engaged their worlds and found some measure of meaning. In limiting their capacity to “know” whether self-inflicted, in Clarissa’s case, or through the misfortunes of war, in Septimus’, is not important “they lost the tools that gave their lives and purpose and meaning. Turning to Septimus again, we can see that, in his insanity, he “becomes little more than a compilation of literary fragments culled from his voracious readings” (Wyatt 440). Without engaging the world and finding some meaning to contextualize the self, Woolf’s characters will have no other choose to react as debased, rootless individuals, reduced to living half lives as social cripples.

Clarissa’s separation from the world is marked by retreating to an imaginative space. There are several allusions to this process in the course of the novel. However, one specific instance stands out strongest. It is the passage in which Clarissa has retreated to the upstairs of the house. She likens this experience as “a nun withdrawing, or a child exploring a tower” there was an emptiness about the heart of life; an attic room” (Woolf 31). Clarissa’s steady withdrawal of her “self” from the world creates a context that separates her knowing mind from the external world. All acts of knowing are reduced to internal processes, as Clarissa notes, “The, for that moment, she had seen an illumination ” an inner meaning almost expressed” (my quotes) (Woolf 32). Indeed, the world takes on a dimness that enshrouds the three main characters of Clarissa, Peter, and Septimus. Retreated to a dimension that is incapable of providing the defining sustenance all three crave, their total actions fail to reach the world around them.

It is no coincidence then, after examination of the notes from Woolf’s diary, that we find Clarissa and Septimus sharing similar, if not identical values. Only their expressed methods differ. In fact, Woolf notes in her diary, that Septimus was created as Clarissa’s literary double (Leonard Woolf 56). The author even planned for Clarissa to kill herself (Samuelson 60) instead of the latter version, where Septimus takes his own life. This aesthetic technique sheds tremendous light on how and why Woolf made the two characters so empathetic towards one another. It also illustrates why both characters, possessing tendencies towards withdrawal from the world, share similar dilemmas of survival and finding meaning in the world. Both characters struggle with sanity: Septimus’ struggle being a public spectacle where Clarissa’s is internal, as demonstrated in Woolf’s notes. This duality of mental suffering is supported by Woolf’s above statement that both Septimus is Clarissa’s double. In the end, my case for both characters suffering from insanity is rooted in the aforementioned theory of self-invention. Essentially, neither character, despite unsuccessful attempts to innovate meaning, fall victim to a life devoid of any context and meaning.

Woolf’s claim that Septimus is the literary double of Clarissa, when examined from the context of the self separated from the world, is not without problem. What comes across to me is more of a parody, at times, than genuine similarities between the two characters. This brings me back to Clarissa’s grieving moment, when she hears of Septimus’ death. Woolf’s Clarissa projects a tragic sentimentality onto Septimus; a sentimentality he did not espouse. Again, I am brought back to the line, “Life was good. The sun hot” (Woolf 143). This seems to stand in contradiction to Clarissa’s, “did he plunge holding his treasure?” (Woolf 184). By ignoring Septimus’ admission that “life was good”, Woolf presents herself as ambivalent in regards to her desire in remaining aloof from the narration. In The World and the Book, Gabriel Josipovici states: “We have to ask, not: What do these words mean? but: What do these words when spoken by that person mean?” (Josipovici 21). What does these words mean to Woolf, who has omniscient knowledge of her characters? Clarissa claims to be cognizant of Septimus’ reality, yet, the above words do not reflect this. The conclusion I am left with is: cloistering of the “knowing self” leads to a lack of consciousness on the part of the characters’ surroundings in Mrs. Dalloway. I come to this conclusion through examining Woolf’s own statements, which attest to the duality between Clarissa and Septimus. A duality that I feel is at times duplicitous and unreliable. If Woolf’s literary aim was to state that one cannot extrapolate real meanings from the extant world, then she has succeeded. The results of such a cosmology support the theme throughout Mrs. Dalloway, that reality can only be observed, never outwardly experienced.
The fact that Woolf, a writer of some capacity, would choose to strip the characters in her novel of the means of defining themselves in the world, is as curious is it is fascinating. In his article, Dehumanized, Mark Slouka makes the argument for the importance of the arts and humanities in shaping and defining who we are. He sees the humanities as providing “a certain way of seeing, of reckoning value” (Slouka 42), a value that Slouka and Woolf would share, despite the decades that separate their lives. It cannot be coincidence then, that many of the characters in Mrs. Dalloway have purposely left those mechanisms which gave them meaning: Peter’s literate, Septimus’ poetry, and Clarissa’s reading and studies. The result is surrender to knowing anything about the world. Knowledge or affirmation is not a purely intern act. Incapable of finding joy or meaning in life, the cast of characters slides into a pessimism and a debilitating skepticism.

Accepting Slouka’s theory on “reckoning value”, I see no method for the characters in Mrs. Dalloway to adapt to the demands of a changing society. In this sense, Clarissa as well as many of the other characters in the novel, harbor hostilities to both change and tradition. For the latter, Clarissa’s opposed to tradition has stripped her of context and definition (Mrs. Dalloway versus Clarissa Dalloway). Similarly, for Septimus, the past is “an idyll contrasted with the present” (Wyatt 440). This further illustrates the defining force that literature had on Septimus. Without it, he is a simulacrum of his former self. For both characters, it is not the yearning for the past as much as it is a longing for pastoral themes or perceived images they conjure up. Change is also representative of the enormous challenge the characters face in their society. By accepting the validity that the self can only observe, and not affirm, Clarissa’s dilemma is that she is incapable of taking ownership of her own happiness. The result is a hostility towards those who possessed the ability to thrive, such as Hugh Whitbread, for who she stated had “the most extraordinary, the most natural, the most sublime respect for the British aristocracy of any human being he had ever come across” (Woolf 72). She began the soliloquy with, “Hugh she detested for some reason” (Woolf 72). This animosity concurs with Auerbach’s observation of Woolf’s literary style, in which he says that there is “something hostile to the reality which they represent” (Auerbach 551). I myself have also questioned Woolf’s literary motivations here, and in my conclusion, I can find no other viable alternative for the characters to act upon, given they have been put into a situation where the only outlet is something that lies between fatalism and nihilism. Examined in this light, Woolf’s transparency as an author, who seeks to withhold omniscient knowledge from the narrative field, begins to fail in light of her characters having few to no other options.

In conclusion, I find Wool’s writing to be highly explanative when seeking to understand many of the driving ideologies and popular philosophies of her time. Such philosophies have endured and have found their way into current forms of literate and popular discourse. The modern world still labors under the weight of truth and the search for meaning in life. Perhaps by examining in detail the writings and thoughts of earlier generations, we may find the necessary tools to answer these questions, if not for all humanity, at least of ourselves in our own time and space.

Citations

  • Appleyard, Bryan. Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
  • Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • Forbes, Shannon. “Equating Performance with Identity: The Failure of Clarissa Dalloway’s Victorian “˜Self’ in Virginia Woolf’s “˜Mrs. Dalloway'” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 38.1 (2005): 38-50.
  • Guth, Deborah. “Rituals of Self-Deception: Clarissa Dalloway’s Final Moment of Vision” Twentieth Century Literature 36.1 (1990): 35-42.
  • Guth, Deborah. “‘What a Lark! What a Plunge!’: Fiction as Self-Evasion in “˜Mrs. Dalloway'” The Modern Language Review 34.1 (1989): 18-25.
  • Josipovici, Gabriel. The World and the Book: A Study of Modern Fiction. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971.
  • Samuelson, Ralph. “The Theme of “˜Mrs. Dalloway'”. Chicago Review 11.4. (1958): 57-76.
    Slouka, Mark. “Dehumanized: When Math and Science Rule the School.” Harper’s Magazine Sept. 2009: 32-40.
  • Woolf, Virginia, A Writer’s Diary. Ed. Leonard Woolf. New York: Mariner Books, 2003.
  • Wyatt, Jean M. “Mrs. Dalloway: Literary Allusion as Structural Metaphor” PMLA 88.3 (1973): 440-451.

On the Benefits of the Remembrance of Death

First Khutbah – Main Points

Opening from the Qur’ān:

كل نفس ذآئقة الموت – و إنما توفَون أجورَكم يومَ القيامة – فمن زُحزِحَ عن النار و أُدخل الجنةَ فقد فاز – و ما الحيوة الدنيآ إلا متاع الغرور

“Every soul shall taste death.  You will be recompensed your due on the Day of Rising.  As for the one that is distanced from the fire and is admitted to the Garden – he has triumphed.  And as for this life: it is just the enjoyment of delusion.” [Q: 3: 185]

I wish to open the khutbah today but discussing death.  Modern life balks at an earnest discussion about death.  It is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.  Popular culture propagates the illusion of eternal life with a hyper fixation on youth.  The consequences are drastic.  Not only are people unable to come to terms with the reality of death, it also has societal repercussions, namely the neglect of the elderly and the sick.  Death is treated as an embarrassment – never to be looked in the eye.  If Muslims are to not only adhere to lifestyles that are pleasing to God, but to engage in thought patterns that engender the type of reflection that leads to a God-pleasing lifestyle, then we must try and steer the discourse to include contemplation on our own deaths.

It may seem a peculiar subject to talk about in that many of us here are young and can feel the strength and power of that youth.  The subject itself is difficult for many of us, let alone modern society and yet, God reveals His Wisdom on this subject through the following verse:

وعسى أن تكرهوا شيئا وهو خير لكم – و عسى أن تحبوا شيئا وهو شر لكم والله يعلم وأنتم لا تعلمون

“It may happen that you detest something despite it being good for you and you may love something while it is evil for you.  And God knows, while you do not.” [Q: 2: 216]

And yet, we know that death can seize us at any moment:

اينما تكونوا يدرككم الموتُ و لو كنتم في بروج مشيدة

“No matter where you are, death will seize you even if you happen to be in a barricaded fortress.” [Q: 4: 78]

The practice of the current age is to look upon leaving this world with sadness and regret.  As Muslims, we must always strike the balance between “tying our camel” and overzealous fatalism.  In fact, we are prohibited to long for death, instead having a state of awareness about its immanent reality, and preparing ourselves for The Meeting.  The scholastic tradition has provided a rubric for us to contemplate this contemplation with.  They say there are three types of people:

  1. The one who is engrossed in this world, meaning not only are all his hopes and passions for it, but he loathes to leave it to such an extent, he belittles the reality of death taking him.  This person may even become delusional regarding death.
  2. The penitent believer: while struggling with the trappings of this life, the penitent believer often mentions death as a reminder – in that s/he will be raised up on day by God and will have to have their Account.  S/he may have fear of death but it is an excusable fear for it is that they fear they may not complete their tawbah/repentance before the Return.
  3. The third person is someone who sees the world as false – they are solely concentrated on After-worldly affairs.
    While we strive to achieve number three [as the Prophet always was conscious of this], we, God willing, fall somewhere around number two.  We must be mindful to not slip into such a state of heedlessness that we slide down to the level of number one!

Second Khutbah – Main Points

One of the ways we as Muslims are encouraged to contemplate about the reality of death is through frequent remembrance of those who have passed on before us.  I often think of my friend Ron – who we nicknamed cImrān.  He was a vibrant, gracious and kind young brother who converted to Islam [may God accept his worship].  Ron was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver one evening while riding his bike to work.  We simply never know what lies ahead of us.  This idea of remembering the dead is in accordance with a narration from one of the Companions, Abu Dardā’, may God be pleased with him:

إذا ذكرت الموتى فعد نفسك كأحدهم

“When you remember the dead, count yourself as one of them.”

This is not a suicidal thought, but rather keeping in mind we will all join those who have gone into the ground one day.

The Prophet [s] even recommended starting off one’s day by acknowledging the fact that one is not guaranteed to make it through the day:

إذا أصبحت فلا تحدث نفسك بالمساء و إذا أمسيت فلا تحدث نفسك بالصباح و خذ من حياتك لموتك و من صحتك لسقمك فإذا يا عبد الله لا تدري ما اسمك غدا

“When you wake in the morning, do not speak to yourself about the evening and when you make it to the evening, do not speak to yourself about the morning.  Therefore, take something of your life for your death, and something from your health, for when you are sick.  O’ Abdullah!  You do not know what your name shall be tomorrow!” [collected in Bukhārī]

The idea here, God willing, is that instead of being presumptuous about what we may be or do in the future, would should also be mindful of our impending Meeting – not to cast of fate to the wind negligently, but to keep a balance and awareness that we must stand before the Lord of the Worlds and that we should be conducting ourselves, our actions, while we’re in this life/world that will lead to a pleasing encounter.

The tendency to hold dearly to this life is a strong one – no less strong than our sexual drives.  In fact, love of the world is co-equal to wealth, per the Prophetic narration:

يهرَم ابن آدم و يبقى معه اثنتان: الحرص والأمل و في رواية: الحرص على المال و الحرص على العمر

“The son of Adam may grow old but two things remain with him even so: greed and hope for this world” – and in a similar narration: “Greed for wealth and greed for longevity.” [reported by Anas in Muslim and Ibn Abī ad-Dunyā]

As Muslims, following the example of our Noble Prophet [s], we can battle the temptation to be heedless about our impending Meeting of God.  And by his example [s], we can prepare for it as we would a weather forecast.  We do not prepare for the weather itself but for what we need to do in it or after it.  This is not dissimilar to death: we must prepare for what we need to do in this life despite its distractions as well as preparing for what comes after death.

We ask Allah to make us the people remember God often and reflect, remember and prepare for the Meeting with the Lord of the Words. Amin.