I’m writing this short dispatch in the middle of the night. Why? Well, for starters I’ve had a wicked sinus infection this week. But even if I weren’t under the weather insomnia is a frequent bedfellow of mine. Sometimes driven by my battles with diabetes, other times driven by the thoughts of a father worried about his child and the world she’s going to live in. And then there are times I just can’t sleep! Whatever the reason it takes its toll on the body as well as the mind. But I am reminded that hardships in this life are opportunities to draw closer to God. The eloquent words of the Prophet ﷺ extolls us to compartmentalize hardship within the bigger space of meaning. A’ishah, his wife, reported that he said,
A believer does not receive the hardship of pricking a thorn — or more than that — but Allah elevates him in rank or reduces his sins because of that. — Sahih Muslim, #2572
So during the quiet of this night, while my head was not being quiet, my sore throat flaring, and the cough medicine keeping me (annoyingly) up, I came to appreciate his statement ﷺ and how one can experience this mercy — particularly at a moment when one isn’t feeling overwhelmed with mercy — in that by turning to prayer, salah, I embodied that “hatta ‘anhu biha khati’ah”, or “[Allah] reduces his sins because of it”. In other words if it weren’t for this wretched sinus infection I might just be sleeping away, arguably, one of the most blessed parts of the day: the middle of the night. As we would say in culinary school: “Mise en place”, “everything in its place”, even hardship.
There are some religious and spiritual traditions that claim to give one access to experiencing God directly. I cannot speak to this, though as a matter of general Muslim orthodoxy, only God talks to the Prophets. However, we can experience knowing God. For some this may seem less esoteric, and thus less attractive, but I find this not only exceedingly valuable on a personal level, it seems to be what many in our present day community are lacking.
Part of this is undoubtedly a reflection of the age in which we live in. We are very hands off due to the ubiquitous nature of digital technology which further distances us from the world that Allah created, amongst other reasons, in order for us to experience knowing Him. It is this aspect of our practice I look forward to on trying to expand at Middle Ground. While this picture is a cheap imitation of experience, nonetheless, we can take inspiration and reminder from it to actually get out and experience the majesty of the Signs He has placed all around us to remind us of Who Allah Is and what are our obligations to Him.
Given the recent attack in London — along with others, many would be highly suspicious of, if not downright hostile towards, any claims of Islam’s ability to empower those who have been downtrodden themselves. Quite the contrary, many view Islam as a corrupting force which prays on the poor and disenfranchised, of which then they all too often employ Islam as an irrational justification to mete our violence in response to perceived injustices. But it may surprise some, particularly American whites and Europeans, that Islam has a very different assessment in the black community. For many of us, even non-Muslim black folks, Islam is seen as redemptive, a system that has the solutions to our social, existential, and even civilizational conundrums. This was beautifully demonstrated by brother Ibn Ali Miller when he broke up two young men attempting to solve their disagreements through violence. He also gave a valuable critique against the voyeuristic technology culture that allows others to sit on the sidelines and gloat at the suffering of others. May Allah reward brother Ali and make him of the inheritors of Islam. An inspiration to us all.