Redemption – A Khutbah

Redemption:

What is going to redeem the human today? The iPhone5? The iPhone6? America’s Next Top Nonsense? The next Jay-Z album? The next Wilco/White Stripes/Indie Band? We can build vessels that can attain and achieve escape velocity but we cannot escape ourselves. Which is why the 21st Century is going to prove to be the century of religion. Maybe not in the way we think, with mass numbers of people entering into Islam: “it ain’t about numbers.”

What is going to redeem the human today? What is going to give us a sense of place in an increasingly globalized, nondescript world in which we live? No matter where you travel to now, you see the same logos, the same brands. And everyone’s struggling to be different with the same things.

A reminder on self-diagnosis:

‏الدنيا سجن المؤمن وجنة الكافر‏

“The world is the believer’s prison and the rejector’s paradise.” – Prophet quoted by Abu Hurayrah from Muslim.

However, while this world may indeed be a prison, what prisoner does not dream (or attempt!) to break free? The restraint we show in this life is not to be stingy or dull, but to seek God’s never-ending pleasure and reward in the Next.

God says something fascinating about the relationship between not preferring this life over the next and still taking our lot from it:

وَابْتَغِ فِيمَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ ۖ وَلَا تَنْسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَأَحْسِنْ كَمَا أَحْسَنَ اللَّهُ إِلَيْكَ ۖ وَلَا تَبْغِ الْفَسَادَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُفْسِدِينَ

“Seek the abode of the Next World with what Allah has given you, without forgetting your portion of this world. And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love corrupters.’ — Qur’an, 28: 77.

Spirituality:

“While the tendency is to look up and tangibility has a habit of “floating away” when we discuss matters of spirituality, my job is to tie a fetter to your legs, your ankles, so you can get a little air, but you don’t fly off into heights that are devoid of oxygen.

Fat Sick & Nearly Dead:

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead’s (a documentary) success lay in the ability for its pursuants to identity with its values more than, say, ethnicity. The big guy (who nearly killed himself as a result of his lifestyle) came to identify with that which was lifesaving and life affirming and it gave him a sense and conduit of purpose.

Indicting the Self:

Love of self is no different than love of another: staring at oneself for the sake of admiring oneself is narcissism and detrimental to one’s health. This is not the same as grooming, for Allah’s Messenger also groomed himself.

Likewise, we hear the adage, “learn to love yourself.” But just like love in a real world relationship, loving oneself must also have conditions: if love of oneself can involve indicting oneself, then this is to be commended. However, love of self that either perpetuates denial and detrimental qualities will lead to ruin just as it would in a real life relationship, only this loss can be a permanent loss in the Here-After.

Predominance of Science – Some Thoughts

As has been pointed out numerous times, Muslim scholars from the medieval and so-called “golden age” where practitioners of what we could call science today (something close to it) as well as being doctors in many of the various fields of religious studies. There is much speculation as to why the change in duality has occurred: being a person of science (i.e., dedicated to studying the natural world) and being a person of God. Many look at it as the degradation of society and the collapse of moral infrastructure; the pervasiveness of immorality. And while this may have contributed to it (though I feel this is more symptomatic than it is causal), I feel it has been the atrophy and lackadaisical attitude of religious thinkers and institutions that have been the greatest contributors if not facilitators of this modern demise. I say this because in those pre-modern times, science was mostly a way of exploiting the natural world to some benefit, and was never meant to be theology or even eschatology in and of itself. It was simply a method. But as the genius of religious thinking waned, technology, who was never born for this, was by proxy and de-facto, thrust onto stage as the ever-growing and only means of “knowing.” As religious thinking retreated, it became more and more comfortable in its own seclusion and surrendered its birthright to “tell us” and to “narrate to us.” So when I look out on the youth of today’s Ummah it is not coincidence that so many Muslims have continued to retreat to and swell the ranks of science-based programs (versus the humanities). This exodus is not only based on economic factors (though this does play an important role) but is also grounded in the stark reality that religion, as it is being articulated today, captures little of the imagination of young Muslims. In essence, religion has become boring.

I have been talking with a few colleagues for several years now for the need for a “fiqh of technology.” One of the greatest challenges facing humanity at this point is what is technology, does it have any limits, is it genuinely neutral, and to what ultimate purpose is its use? I can see no other way of answering any of these questions unless we consult religion. As technology pushes us to move faster and faster, fractures our capacity for deep and sustained thought, as its very short shelf life of usefulness makes an even greater quandary for its very long half-lives, as it increasingly wants to the thinking for us, we will increasingly run the risk of not only destroying our natural world, but may in fact be expediting our obsoleteness as Bani Adam. It is clear to me, and I have an itching intuition that it is for many others as well, that technology is not going to solve problems, or even make our lives better in and of itself, if people are not at the top of the thinking food chain. I saw the iPhone 5’s release as a prescient moment where for the first time in long while, a piece of technology truly failed to deliver on all its hype. Yes, people gathered around the block but it was almost as if a small but important balloon had been popped somewhere in the stratosphere (the Heavens?) And perhaps what troubles me the most about all of this, even with the balloon deflated, is what will replace that enthusiasm in technology’s absence? For if it is not a return to religion, I don’t even wish to imagine what awaits us around that corner.

Suggested Readings

  • The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman.
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman.
  • Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education, Neil Postman.
  • Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman.
  • The Technological Society, Jacques Ellul.

Calibre, e-Books and Arabic

I have just dived into the world of e-publishing and e-books. I am most interested in the foreign language support of the various devices, especially for Arabic. My iPad seems to handle Arabic fairly well if the document is first parsed as an xml/html document and then converted to a .epub file. Microsoft Word 201o facilitates this pretty easily with their Save AsWeb Page, Filtered” command [I am still exploring this on the Mac as I have Word 2008 and it only offers the non-“Filtered” mode of saving]. You can take any .doc/.docx file and it will save as a stripped down version of an html file [.htm] [funny enough Microsoft says concerning the “filtered” option:

This feature is only recommended for experienced Web authors who are concerned about the tags that appear in their HTML files.

You mean there are Web authors who aren’t concerned about the tags that appear in their HTML files? Surely they jest. Normally, this makes the hand coder in me cringe at the thought of the kind of code Word will generate [normally, it’s horrible]. However, the tags here are fairly clean. And you can even tweak the code yourself a bit before dumping it into Calibre, my e-Book creator of choice. You can even view an .epub sample here [zipped file].

Microsoft Word 2010's "Web Page, Filtered" version of HTML

All this is fine and dandy for the iPad. The Kindle is a bit trickier. According to Answers.com, the Kindle DX does support Arabic through either a PDF file or through Amazon’s proprietary software, .AZW. The issue with PDF’s is that they are not scalable and are often a pain in the neck to read [the font renders very small and cannot be changed]. There are a number of converters out there that can go from .epub to .azw but I have not had the chance to try this out yet. One Omani woman has chosen to write about her experience with the Kindle and Arabic language support here. It’s a good read if you’re thinking of buying an e-reader for reading in Arabic. Hopefully in the future, the Kindle will develop a better and easier to implement support for non-Latin languages. In the meantime, I will continue to happily publish to the .epub platform and enjoy native Arabic on my iPad and iPhone.