A Room With No Oxygen

“Those who argue about God after His existence has already been accepted are arguing pointlessly in their Lord’s sight. His wrath is drawn over them, and they’ll receive a strong punishment besides.”Qur’an, 42: 16

Argumentation is to Muslim community life as is fire to a room full of people: it chokes the life out of it. But the interesting thing is that a fire burning in a room does not simply “create a vacuum”, as it is commonly misunderstood, but rather it produces carbon dioxide, a poisonous, colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, which if its presence goes undetected, can kill. The reason carbon dioxide is so dangerous is that one simultaneously inhales it while also breathing in oxygen. In other words, there is just as much carbon dioxide produced as there is oxygen used. The result, in our case here, is communal asphyxiation.

Social media has provided an, to quote David Bowie, “unimaginable” and “exhilarating and terrifying” means of communicating. Sadly, it seems to have fostered a spirit of argumentation that has spilled over from our traditional spaces (masjids, etc.) to even our online spaces. The words of the Prophet are a beautiful and necessary reminder at how dangerous the tongue (even if articulated through the keyboard!) can be,

قلت يا رسول الله ما النجاة‏ قال أمسك عليك لسانك وليسعك بيتك وابكِ على خطيئتك

“I asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, ‘How can salvation be achieved?’ He replied, ‘Control your tongue, keep to your house, and weep over your sins’.”reported by ‘Uqbah bin ‘Amir, collected in Riyadh al-Salihin

#MiddleGroundPodcast – Abject Argumentation – Presented by the Lamppost Education Initiative

[Direct download]

أَنَّ الْحُسَيْنَ بْنَ عَلِيٍّ، حَدَّثَهُ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي طَالِبٍ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم طَرَقَهُ وَفَاطِمَةَ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ أَلاَ تُصَلُّونَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ فَقُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّمَا أَنْفُسُنَا بِيَدِ اللَّهِ فَإِذَا شَاءَ أَنْ يَبْعَثَنَا بَعَثَنَا ‏.‏ فَانْصَرَفَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم حِينَ قُلْتُ لَهُ ذَلِكَ ثُمَّ سَمِعْتُهُ وَهُوَ مُدْبِرٌ يَضْرِبُ فَخِذَهُ وَيَقُولُ ‏”‏ وَكَانَ الإِنْسَانُ أَكْثَرَ شَىْءٍ جَدَلاً

Al-Husayn bin ‘Ali narrated on the authority of his father, ‘Ali b. Abu Talib, that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ came one night to see him ‘Ali and Fatimah (the daughter of the Prophet) and said,

“Why aren’t you praying (Tahajjud)? I (‘Ali) said, ‘Messenger of Allah, our souls are in the hands of God. If He wants to wake us up (to pray), He’ll wake us up’. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ left when I said this to him. I heard him say, with his back turned, striking his hand on his thigh,

“More than anything else, man is argumentative!” — Qur’an, 18: 54

in reference to the verse,

وَلَقَد صَرَّفنا في هٰذَا القُرآنِ لِلنّاسِ مِن كُلِّ مَثَلٍ ۚ وَكانَ الإِنسانُ أَكثَرَ شَيءٍ جَدَلًا

“We’ve given detailed explanations in this Qur’an, using every kind of example for people to ponder. But more than anything else, man is argumentative!” — Qur’an, 18: 54

خَرَجْتُ لأُخْبِرَكُمْ، فَتَلاَحَى فُلاَنٌ وَفُلاَنٌ وَإِنَّهَا رُفِعَتْ، وَعَسَى أَنْ يَكُونَ خَيْرًا لَكُمْ، فَالْتَمِسُوهَا فِي التَّاسِعَةِ وَالسَّابِعَةِ وَالْخَامِسَةِ

Narrated ‘Ubadah bin al-Samit,

The Prophet ﷺ said, “I came out to inform you about the Laylah al-Qadr, but as so-and-so were arguing, so the news about it had been taken away and perhaps that was better for you. So look for it in the ninth, the seventh, or the fifth of the last ten days of Ramadan”.

Non-Muslim Holiday Etiquette

I believe the proper etiquette ought to go something like this, as God relates in the Qur’an:

‏ واهجرهم هجرا جميلا

“…and cut yourself off from them – but courteously.” Qur’an, 73:10.

not “blank you and your pagan holiday”.

I find the negative banter regarding non-Muslim holidays in general, and Christmas in particular, not only fatiguing but downright reprehensible. Perhaps, like that first community of Muslims, I too have non-Muslims I care deeply about, indeed even love. What is even more ludicrous is many of these decriers do not even have non-Muslim families and thus are not truly put out by this whole “holiday fiasco”. And of course beyond that lies the unfortunate collective of self-loathing converts who feel that in order to adequately profess adherence to Islam, they must harangue non-Muslims (even their own families) over this celebration.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating some lax or liberal position on Christmas; the secular and the religious one. I do not celebrate Christmas and my loving, non-Muslim parents know and understand why. And that understanding includes that I am not rejecting them and their “dirty, kafir, pagan holiday.”

But more importantly, to return to the verse above, God Almighty has given us a way, a dialectic and a means of how to distinguish and even divorce ourselves from those actions that we deem would have consequences for us in the sight of God and in the Here-After. This separating can be down with eloquence, etiquette and esteem, not belligerence, hostility and rancor. For clearly the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم summed up his mission for us in a beautiful soliloquy (collected in Imam Malik’s al-Muwatta’):

‏بُعِثْتُ لأُتَمِّمَ حُسْنَ الأَخْلاَقِ

I was sent to perfect good character.

Culture of Indifference

I was really disturbed by what I witnessed on the train yesterday when heading home from work. A young Blackamerican mother was seated with a toddler, not much older than my own daughter, when the child began to cry. At this moment, a whole number of culture maladies went into play:

  • A young black women with a child: the tension of a young black woman (perceived and assumed to be mother of an out-of-wedlock child) with a child on the train full of 90% white people created an instant moment of shame and pressure.
  • The inability for people to see beyond their vain, selfish and temporal selves: when ensued at this point could only be described as belligerent and bully-tactics.
    How far have we fallen as a culture when we cannot tolerate the cries of a child for even a few moments? How quickly we’ve forgotten that we too were once toddlers, who more than likely cried in public. Without a doubt, fatherhood has made me more sensitive to children and to parents and to the difficulties of being a parent. It was immediately apparent that this mother was aware that her child was crying on a crowded train and took measures to coo the child. After approximately fifteen minutes the woman gave the child a candy bar which caused the child to cease crying, whereupon an older white woman disparaged:

“I don’t know why you didn’t do that in the first place. You could have saved us from all the torture,” to which I replied, “Perhaps she was thinking in the best interests of the child, not in your inability to tolerate a few moments of a crying child.” The older woman glared at me, startled as if I had just trodden into her house with muddy shoes on. The indifference and cruelty that we display towards one another is indeed alarming and appalling. The child’s crying reminded me of that God says in the Qur’an:

وَأَمَّا السَّائِلَ فَلَا تَنْهَرْ

“And as for the petitioner, do not repel them.” Qur’an 93, verse 10.

For who is a petitioner if not a crying child? May God have mercy on our souls.

Exercise in Islamization – Should(n’t) Islam Equal Good Design (?)

The following is an exercise in “Islamization”. Islamization may feel too large or charged a term but it is precisely the word I plan to use with a group of MSA students this weekend at our retreat. The idea behind Islamization is that one looks to one’s environment and is able to see, infuse or somehow impose or appropriate purpose upon that thing in such away it reminds oneself of God, of the Messenger صلى لله عليه وسلم or some other “Islamic” principle by which we can enrich our lives as Muslims.

All too often I see Muslims (particularly young Muslims) laboring underneath a cloud of inferiority, insecurity and just plain doubt as to what they can (or most likely) can’t do as Muslims. Part of this ailment hails from a lack of intellectual authority over their lives as Muslims. Simply put, they are not literate as Muslims, despite the fact that many are highly educated. So when I came across a documentary this weekend on Netflix entitled Objectified,  I was struck by Japanese designer, Naoto Fukasawa, when he expressed what he felt “good design” was:

“Design dissolving in behavior. Design needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.” – Naoto Fukasawa, industrial designer, former head of IDEO.

Immediately, my mind went to not design, but to Islam. For was not Islam something that should be and come natural to the human being? So I played a little experiment that I shall continue this weekend, but substituting the keyword of “design” with a variety of “Islamic” vocabulary in order to appropriate an idea/ideal, whose origin was not “Islamic” per se, but nonetheless, resonated well, exceptionally well in my opinion, in that it showcased the ghaayah or goal that Islam has with the human being and thus provided some clues as to how one must just go about “dissolving [it] in [one’s] behavior”:

Islam dissolving in behavior. Islam needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Qur’an dissolving in behavior. Qur’an needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Sunnah dissolving in behavior. Sunnah needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Taqwa dissolving in behavior. Taqwa needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Ihsan dissolving in behavior. Ihsan needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Adab dissolving in behavior. Adab needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Akhlaq dissolving in behavior. Akhlaq needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Shari’ah dissolving in behavior. Shari’ah needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.