#BeyondHalal – The Role of Imagery in Manipulating Food Choices

As Benjamin Missbach describes in his article, Mental Imagery and Food Consumption, human beings have an enigmatic, Proust-like capacity to,

“travel back and forth in time by using mental simulations. By imagining shapes, forms, and scenes, humans can relive the past and visualize future events”1.

The process of reimagining the past, as demonstrated in the above image on the back of a delivery truck, is emblematic of how the food industry operates in the western, developed world. Unlike Marcel Proust’s madeleine, however, whose triggered memory was based on an actual memory, our nostalgic reactions today to such images as the one above — a white cowboy rancher, is based more on fiction and fantasy than fact and reality. Continue reading “#BeyondHalal – The Role of Imagery in Manipulating Food Choices”

From This Quiet Place…

So many years ago this journey began, and all along the way breadcrumbs were left for me, like so much foreshadowing. How deeply overcome I was tonight, sitting quietly in a dark room, whereupon I chanced on an old album by the gospel sextet, Take 6, and like Proust’s madeleine, I was transported back to when I was just a young man, more a boy in reality, and how this album, amongst all my others, would comfort me so and bring me only what I could now articulate as yaqin and sakinah: certainty and tranquility. How moved I am by my Lord’s plan: how His mercy has always been present; how He has always had a plan. I have no words to properly convey the emotional feeling I just had but I felt compared to share it, for my cheek is still wet (I sobbed like a newborn!). And this lyric still fresh in my mind, more than twenty five years ago:

Whether a garden small,

Or on a mountain tall.

I am reminded here of Allah’s words in the 45th chapter, al-Jathiyah:

فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَيُدْخِلُهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ فِي رَحْمَتِهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْمُبِينُ

“As for those who were secure in faith and did right actions, their Lord will admit them into His mercy. That is the Clear Victory.” (Qur’an, 45: 30)

This journey, this thing called Islam, is simply amazing. My only lament is not being able to articulate it with justice. Despite that shortcoming, I invite any and all seekers to truth to join me on this sojourn.

Alienation, Memory, and Childhood: The Quest For Meaning In Adult Life. A Reading of Tintern Abbey

Melancholy, much more than any other emotion, permeates so much of the poetry of the eighteenth century. And while William Wordsworth remains indebted to this mood, he takes his own turn at the loss of innocence through the transition from childhood to adulthood. Unlike some of his contemporaries—Thomas Grey comes chiefly to mind—in which his Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard, considered to be “the most popular poem of melancholy in the eighteenth century” (Quinney 132), Wordsworth inherits this poetic legacy while steering it in a new direction. Where Thomas’ focus was on the invisibility and anonymity of the narrator, living a condemned life in which the future has been “emptied out” (Quinney 132), Wordsworth relates to us a journey, one from childhood to adult, where the melancholy and loss of childhood is compensated by an heightened awareness and cognizance of maturity. The end of childhood is not the death of the self for Wordsworth, but rather the terminus of a stage, all bliss and felicity withstanding. It is in the fullness of intellect and its illumination of spirit that Wordsworth, as a grown man says, “And so I dare to hope, though changed, do doubt, from what I was when first I came among these hills” (lines 65-67). In spite of the alienation he experiences in the transition from boy to man, Wordsworth sees the fully mature human being as the only one capable to synthesize the disparate images of nature, which he sees before him, and through “abundant recompense” (line 88) re-sacralize the world into a “sobre pleasure” (line 139).

In order to have a better grasp on both the transition to adulthood and the compensation had therein, it is necessary to take a moment and examine Wordsworth’s conception of childhood. For Wordsworth, childhood is a quasi-animal state, in which one (at least according to his experience) not only wonders at nature, but sees oneself as a part or extension of it. When Wordsworth visited Tintern Abbey as a young boy, he did so “like a roe”, where he, “bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams” (lines 67-69). These mosaics of natural phenomena are not simply landscape artifacts but interconnected entities that he visits in his time there. These “glad animal movements” (line 74) cement the boy of Wordsworth’s youth as an equally natural expression amongst the natural landscape.

The childhood that Wordsworth also describes is an un-nuanced and unarticulated existence. His boyish encounters in Tintern Abbey constitute more to do with raw emotion than intellectualized endeavors. When, as a boy, he thought of the mountains and woods, their appearance manifested to him as “an appetite” or “a feeling and a love” (line 80). Their forms appeared to him without the need of external influences. Having “no need of a remoter charm” (line 81), nature appears to Wordsworth solely based on his youthful sensorium, an ecstatic exchange, in which all of nature seems holy and sacred to Wordsworth.

It is necessary to expound on the nature of youth as Wordsworth interprets it in order to gauge and comprehend the alienation and loss he experiences in adulthood. And it is in adulthood that alienation, loss, and melancholy, are negotiated. Wordsworth’s urban experiences allude to this fact, where in “lonely rooms” and “mid the din of towns and cities, I have owed them ” and “passing even into my purer mind” (lines 25-28) his sense of sorrow and alienation come to fruition. Here, the negotiation of child and man is rooted in memory and its ability to provide Wordsworth the basis by which he can measure and treat his loss. In summary, Wordsworth reckons childhood and adulthood as two disparate stages in which the defining characteristics of the first stage cannot be carried over into the second (Grob 35). This is clearly demonstrated in the poem’s narration of loss: the “glad animal movements”, “coarser pleasures”, “dizzy raptures” and the like. This loss, or alienation, is forever gone as Wordsworth writes, in the present tense, “I cannot paint what then I was” (lines 75-76). The passage from child to adult is permanent. The only recompense for this loss is the illumination that Wordsworth receives upon maturation, as I shall discuss shortly.

Despite the entranced nature of his childhood, Wordsworth satiates this absence in moving from what I will term the experiential-self (the child) to the knowing-self (the adult). It is the primacy of knowledge over enraptured enthusiasm that ingratiates his soul in its newfound context. While recognizing the “nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love” (lines 34-35) Wordsworth makes his case for knowledge as that which brings man happiness: “of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood, in which the burthen of the mystery of all this unintelligible world, is lightened” (lines 37-41). This “serene and blessed mood” gives Wordsworth the peace of mind that will abide in him until his death (“until, the breath of this corporeal frame” line 43).

Wordsworth’s knowing-self is also the means by which he is able to acknowledge and act upon the “other”. In specific, the “other” in Tintern Abbey is his sister and “dearest Friend” (line 116). When Wordsworth first visited the Abbey as a child, there was no mention of her as he “bounded o’er the mountains”. His time then was purely individual and self-experiential. In the bloom of adulthood, Wordsworth is able to articulate strong feelings for his sister; feelings previously reserved for his natural landscape. Amidst the myriad of emotions that Wordsworth conveys to us, compassion is one of the strongest amongst them. From here, Tintern Abbey takes on the role of didactic prescription, where Wordsworth attempts to administer the cure he found in his experience at the Abbey to his sister: “Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind shall be a mansion for all lovely forms oh! then, if solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief, should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts of tender joy wilt thou remember me” (lines 141-145). Wordsworth is leaving his poem as an inheritance to his sister, where if she should find herself suffering from similar alienation or despair, she need only call on these “healing thoughts”. This is without a doubt one of the poem’s more strident empirical moments, where Wordsworth’s experiential-self and knowing-self, as subject and findings, are packaged and prepared for treatment on another individual, with expected success.

As I stated initially in this paper, Wordsworth shared the fixation on sorrow and disappointment with several other eighteenth century Sensibility poets. Some literary critics, such as Laura Quinney, have claimed it to be his favorite subject (Quinney 131). I do not seek to depart ways with the likes of Quinney in observation but in scope, for Tintern Abbey most certainly deviates from both Wordsworth’s past writings, as well as that of the Sensibility poets, favoring optimism over pessimism. In Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth is able to reconcile the experiential-self with the knowing-self. To articulate this plainly, I see Wordsworth’s take on the nature of both states, the experiential and the knowing, as an affirmation of life: it is neither devoid or flushed of meaning. This is accomplished by the experiential-self being assimilated by the knowing-self. The ingenuity of Wordsworth’s technique is accomplished by using the same source material as his predecessors: nostalgia, anxiety and regret (Quinney 131), and by synthesizing them into a new articulation out of that body of work; or as Mary Jacobus puts it: an “indiscriminate melancholy” (Jacobus 107).

Wordsworth’s approach to the self, by distancing and re-imagining himself from the Sensibility poets, allowed him to spark a new conversation on the nature of the self and how it might be approached. Where the poetry of his contemporaries frequently focused on the “inner erosion and failing” (Quinney 132) of the human spirit, Wordsworth’s perspective looks towards the future. He sees life, in the present tense, as “a moment”, where there is “life and food for future years” (line 64). This bricolage of old and new material left and leaves much to be inspired by. No doubt, such motifs have been applied by other great writers; Marcel Proust comes foremost to mind, in his use of memory as the vehicle through which he explored all of his major works. I see Wordsworth’s evolution from boy to man, as conceived with and by the act of memory, a presage to Proust’s petites madeleines, in which they ignited the memory of the author’s protagonist, carrying the tea to Marcel’s lips (Proust 45). So too did Wordsworth employ memory as a vehicle, the Abbey here a stand-in for Proust’s madeleine. The indebtedness that modern fiction owes to writers, such as William Wordsworth, cannot be emphasized enough. Perhaps, through re-engaging with texts from a bygone era, we can benefit from the lyrical wisdom they house, versus common day philosophies that revel in their forward-looking stances, claiming that novelty, change, and innovation alone are capable of ascribing meaning to our context. Such systems of thought have a habit of “placing little or no value on the preservation of views or perspectives from the past” (Jackson 170). Wordsworth clearly demonstrates the value and contribution his works made and the potential to continue to speak to us more than two centuries later.

Citations

  • Jacobus, Mary. Tradition and Experiment in Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (1798). London: Oxford University Press, 1976, 107.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. 259-262.
  • Grob, Alan. “Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode and the Search for Identity” ELH 32.1 (1965): 32-61.
  • Jackson, Sherman. “Taqlid, Legal Scaffolding and the Scope of Legal Injunctions in Post-Formative Theory Mutlaq and Amm” in the Jurisprudence of Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi Islamic Law and Society Vol. 3, No. 2 (1996): 165-192.
  • Lau, Beth. “Wordsworth and Current Memory Research” Studies in English Literature 42.4 (2002): 675-692.
  • Proust, Marcel, trans. Lydia Davis. Swann’s Way. New York: Penguin Group, 2002. 45.
  • Quinney, Laura. “Tintern Abbey,” Sensibility, and the Self-Disenchanted Self.” ELH 64.1 (1997): 131-156.

Islam and Avoiding Double-Consciousness in America

First Khutbah – Main Points

Opening from the Qur’an:

إنا فتحنا لك فتحا مبينا
لّيغفرَ لك الله ما تقدم من ذنبك و ما تأخر و يتمَ نعمته عليك و يهديَك صراطا مستقيما
و ينصُرَك الله نصرا عزيزا

“Without a doubt, we have granted you [Muhammad] the clear, manifest victory. In order that Allah might forgive you for what you have done regarding your sin, as well as pardoning any later ones, and complete His favor upon you and guide you to a straight path. And so that Allah may help you with a great assistance.” [Q: 48: 1‐3]

There has been much written about this verse, and a great deal of popular opinion agrees that it refers to the Conquest of Makkah. But one of the Prophet’s [s] Companions, ‘Ubad Ibn Samit, disagrees. ‘Ubad states:

“I know you think this ayah refers to the Conquest of Makkah – but you are wrong. It is about the victory
of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.”

‘Ubad’s remarks take us back in time to the historical landscape of 7th Century Arabia, to a time when Islam had yet to sink in its roots. In other words, Islam was yet to be seen as a bona fide Arabian religion.

In some ways, we can see that many of the struggles that the Muslims faced during that period could be held to the fact that they had yet to carve out a niche or establish themselves with a sense of belonging. This is not dissimilar to our struggle today. The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah did just that for many reasons but I will mark just three:

  1. Instituted a 10-year truce between Quraysh and the Muslims
  2. All Arabs in the region became “free agents” – they were free to choose their religious affiliation without fear of reprisal, but most importantly, without fear of losing their cultural identity [i.e., their Arab’ness].
  3. The Muslims, though not that year, would be permitted to return the following year and perform their Hajj at the Ka’abah. This is a crucial turning point in the growth, development and establishment of Islam in Arabia. For without a seat at the Ka’abah so to speak, you truly did not belong. This had the affect of establishing Islam as a bona fide Arabia religion. And for those who have that whole clash of civilizations notion about Islam, in that it must dominate
    everything around it, Islam was coming to the Ka’abah not as the exclusive religion in Arabia, but one amongst many.

This had the effect of breaking down social and psychological barriers between being an Arab, and being a Muslim. There is a great deal of wisdom for us to take from this – not just simply learning these facts as history lessons. We need to break down these same barriers of American and Muslim. We must remove the space and join the words, even if only with a hyphen [see Greco‐Roman].

This juncture illustrates to me the importance of establishing a Muslim habit in America. Let me define what I mean by habit, borrowing from the French author, Marcel Proust:

“Habit! That skillful but very slow housekeeper who begins by letting our mind suffer for weeks in temporary arrangement; but whom we are nevertheless truly happy to discover, for without habit our mind, reduced to no more than its own resources, would be powerless to make a lodging habitable.” [Swann’s Way].

Without establishing this sense of Muslim habit, I believe Muslims will continue to suffer and fall prey to a variety of maladies, not the least of which is already prevalent in our community: Double-Consciousness.

One of the erudite scholars of the last century, W. E. B. DuBois spoke on the nature of double-consciousness as thus:

“…the measuring of one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

Muslims have been looking at themselves from another one’s eyes for quite some time now. We see it manifest quite often nowadays in so‐called Muslim reformers, who, incapable of seeing themselves for who they are, proffer up an articulation of Islam that is not, at its center, an attempt to please God, but a vain attempt to appease the dominant culture.

Second Khutbah – Main Points

Many such attempts are made when Muslims are faced with such daunting arguments, based on the theory of “universal values”. This has proven troublesome indeed to many pundits, who do not have the training or familiarity of what Islam is trying to get at objectively with the human being. So we ask:

  • How will Muslims deal with this?
  • How will they handle the pressure to produce an articulation of Islam that will be pleasing first and
    foremost to God, and concurrently, though secondly, accommodating the demands of the American
    social, political and moral landscape?

This leaves Muslims on a very precarious precipice: that of secularism and positivism. In fact, if Muslims are not careful, I fear we will either turn 9/11 or have it turned upon us as a sort of secular holiday, where our reflection on the nature of the event is only seen in a “worldly” context – mainly to appease the dominant cultures stance of Muslims [as well as our own psychological insecurities], especially psychologically.

Even the Prophet [s] had to face this difficult task:

و لو لآ أن ثبتناك لقد آِدتّ ترآن إليهم شيئا قليلا

“And if we had not made you firm, you would have leaned towards them a little.” [Q: 17:74]

The idea of standing firm here is not the one for the sake of being obstinate or dominant, but because ultimately, there are some aspects of Islam that are immutable. Like a tree, whose roots must remain firmly planted for the life‐sake of the tree, its branches are free to grow where they need to in order to perform their function. However, they always are attached to the life giving roots of the tree. This is akin to how the Shari’ah operates.

In any event, both ideologies are currently running wild in our midst. And the demands that both of these constructs place on Muslims is thus:

any knowledge, gained or inherited, must pass through the sieve of secularism or positivism, including such spheres as legal, logical, and scientific, whereupon only if Islam’s transcendent values can be brought down and in line with the latter, can the position that Islam holds be deemed valid [i.e., universal, scientific, etc.].

This is killing us, intellectually speaking. First and foremost because this kind of rhetoric is at its heart a true bid’ah, as it seeks to compete and oust the Sunnah and the Shari’ah. And the proof is in the pudding: how many Muslims, especially those coming from ethnic Muslim backgrounds, pursue anything other than law, medicine or some type of science? What we could call the humanities in the West, are left to the dregs of academic and intellectually inferior students. How can we run a community when the best and brightest only student chemistry, law, and medicine?

We have stunted our growth, have cut ourselves off and made ourselves very remote from the world. What was once a major study for Muslims, cosmology, has been reduced to a horizontal plane: the Cosmos is a horizontal one. We never look up, or worse yet, inwards. Forever gazing out, we cannot see the forest for the trees.

We must re‐attach ourselves to the Sacred – to Allah, to His Book, to His Prophet [s], learning his ways, his wont, his attitude, not simply a loose collection of ahadith to be branded about like a blunt instrument.

As for the phenomenon of 9/11, keep the following statement of Allah’s close at hand and reflect on its meaning:

ألآ تزر وازرة وزرَ أخرى

“No one can bear another’s load” [Q: 53:38‐39]

None of us can be held responsible for the actions of others. And here I am explicitly speaking to the malevolent force of communal guilt that has been hanging around the neck of many Muslims who feel, despite having had no hand in it, that they, via proxy of sharing the same religion, are guilty and culpable of the crime. And while I feel we are not guilty of 9/11, we are guilty of not doing our job, of acting in accordance with what we believe and what we know as it relates to our condition and mission as Muslims here in America. Allah admonished the Believers for precisely this point:

يأيها الذين ءامنوا لم تقولون ما لا تفعلون

“O’ you of secure faith, why do you say that which you do not do?” [Q: 61:2]

It is not enough to profess faith to be doing the right and responsible thing, but it is that our actions fall in line with what we believe.

حاسبوا أنقسكم قبل أن تحاسبوا
وزنوا أعمالكم قبل أن توزن عليكم

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

Closing du’ah:

اللهم، نسألك العِصمة في الحرآات و السكنات،
والكلمات والإرادات والخطرات
من الشكوك والظنون،
والأوهام الساترة للقلوب.
ربنا، أُنصُرنا، فإنك خير الناصرين،
وافتح لنا، فإنك خير الفاتحين،
واغفر لنا، فإنك خير الغافرين،
وارحمنا، فإنك خير الراحمين،
وارزُقنا، فإنك خير الرازقين،
وصلواتك وسلامك وتحياتك ورحمتك وبرآاتك
على سيدنا محمد
آمين

“O’ Allah!, we ask of you your protection, in both motion and rest,
In words, desires, and thoughts,
from doubts and speculative thoughts,
and in self‐delusion that veils the hearts.
Our Lord, help us, for you are the Best of helpers,
Open our minds and hearts, for you are the Best of openers,
Forgive us our sins, for you are the Best of forgivers,
Have mercy on us, for you are the Best of the merciful,
Provide for us, for you are the Best of providers.
And may your prayers, peace, glad tidings, and blessings
be upon our master, Muhammad.

Amin.