Dear Mama

“[My mother] had handed down respect for the possibilities—and the will to grasp them.” – Alice Walker

Today has been a strange day. It feels like one of those lifetimes where heaviness burdens you everywhere you go and shrouds everything you do. I still haven’t arrived at a satisfactory narrative for this recurrent feeling, but I’ve been acquainted with it more than a few times. Today also happens to be the eve of my mother’s 50th birthday. By the time you read this, she’ll be 50. And I can’t help but be led – perhaps by the Universe – to believe that the heaviness I feel has something to do with this milestone.

Mama Sundus shared the first six months of her life with her twin brother, Ja’far. In 1966, my grandmother went into labour three months early. Ja’far arrived first, healthy and alive. Ten minutes later, my mother came. When she was delivered, the nurse could not find her pulse. As far as the nurses were concerned, she was stillborn. They wrapped her tiny skeleton in cotton and she was thrown in a bin. The end. That should’ve been the conclusion of her brief six-month life. Had the story stopped here, I would not be here and neither would these words.

10302104_849344305095507_788874459668255617_nIt goes without saying that chapter two transpired. The doctor who was assigned to my grandmother, (ironically) a British woman working in Baghdad, entered the delivery room and asked about the newborns. The nurse informed her that the boy survived and the girl did not. She then asked where the girl was, and was told that she had been thrown in the bin. In a flurry of angry disbelief, the doctor went to the bin and collected my mother in her ball of fluff. She inserted a tube into her mouth, and held her by her minuscule leg, suspending her premature body upside down in mid-air. The doctor tapped her gently on her back, and my grandmother heard a nanoscopic sneeze. And thus, my mother was officially alive. Resurrected even. It still blows my mind how a different set of circumstances would’ve committed Sundus to a grave. Had she been delivered in another hospital, and assigned to another doctor, she wouldn’t have made it out of that bin.

What I’ve just narrated happened exactly 50 years ago today. Sundus is now 50, and my uncle would’ve been too had he not been cruelly taken away from us in the mass burial grounds of Iraq. My grandmother Wedad, who birthed these two giants of my life, hasn’t lived to see this day either. Perhaps 50 isn’t a significant milestone as convention has us believing. But whilst we may dispute its significance, Sundus making it to her 50th is special to me. She is resilience defined. The story of her birth is the perfect analogy for her continual defiance of austerity.

Someone I recently met told me of his conviction that women are one of the most sacred existent’s in the world because they, unlike men, give birth to life through a physical and emotional strength that men cannot begin to comprehend. I don’t think he fully understood what he was saying and how consequential it ought to be to his life as a man and his dealings with women, but I’ll still eagerly mention him here because it meant something to me. Our mothers are temples – they are the root of everything we are and will be. Without them, it is ridiculously simple: we would not be.

480337_10151565029444360_1709510342_nSundus is the most loyal person inhabiting my life. She has been my biggest supporter, my most avid fan, my backbone in times of pain and failure, and the reason for everything I’ve accomplished. But more than this, my mother is my best friend. I tell her about everything that I get up to – the good, the bad, and the mischievous. She could recount my life story to you. We also rock the same creps, have tattoos on our left arms, and you’ll often find us cotching together at the local shisha lounge. When I call her my best friend, I mean it. She’s one of the homies.

Happy birthday mama. These words do not do justice to how deeply my heart has beaten for you for 25 years. And I think that’s what was weighing me down today – realising how much I owe you and for loving me like nobody else ever could.

Transcending Idiosyncrasy: The Appropriation of Islām by Muslims

[This is the first of four instalments of my MA thesis “Transcending Idiosyncrasy: An Investigation into the Appropriation of Islām by Muslims”, submitted to the Islamic College for Advanced Studies in collaboration with Middlesex University in September 2015].
“May God veil you from the exterior of the religious law, and may he reveal to you the reality of infidelity. For the exterior of the religious law is a hidden idolatry, while the reality of infidelity is manifest gnosis.” –Mansūr  Al-Hallāj

There appears to be a battle brewing whereby strands of the Muslim collective have, knowingly or unknowingly, applied a policy of exclusivity and monopolization with regards to the Islamic creed. In particular, whilst much emphasis has been placed on the need to fight any and all attempts at the dilution and misapplication of the Islāmic faith by external agents, the constant need for wariness of the internal attack has been neglected, despite the reality, which tradition has often emphasized, that the “internal enemy is more dangerous than the external enemy.”1

Since this investigation is concerned with the seizure of Islām on the part of various Muslim cohorts, it is important to firstly discern what the term Islām denotes in order to comprehend the process of appropriation that has taken place. Islām is an Arabic word derived from the root-verb aslama, which means “to surrender oneself [to God]”,2 and it has been recognized by few scholars and Qur’ānic translators in particular, that it is in light of this original denotation that the term is ought to be understood throughout the Qur’ān.

Expanding on his translation of the term muslimūn (singular: muslim), which first occurs, chronologically speaking, in Chapter 68 (verse 35) of the Qur’ān, Muhammad Asad explicitly states the following in his exegesis of the Qur’ānic test: “It should be borne in mind that the “institutionalized” use of these terms [islām and muslim] – that is, their exclusive application to the followers of the Prophet Muhammad – represents a definitely post-Qur’ānic development and, hence, must be avoided in a translation of the Qur’ān.”3

As such, there is a necessary distinction to be made between the verbatim meaning of Islām, and its systemized counterpart. Muhammad Shahrur’s refreshing rereading of the Qur’ān also contributes to this stream of thought, whereby he exposes the various fallacious conflations committed by traditional scholarship in what ought to be revered as an essential work that has arguably carved a novel approach to Qur’ānic sciences. One of his main conclusions, which inform this brief study, is “to demonstrate the distinct universal nature of the term al-muslimūn, which can be (generically) applied to all believers in this world.”4  Shahrur goes to great lengths in separating the two, often synonymized, terms, namely that of al-muslimūn, which he defines as “those who assent to God”, and al- mu’minūn, describing a particular breed of believers, a term that Shahrur subsequently identifies as being specifically reserved “for the followers of Prophet Muhammad.”5 The reason for this distinction is rooted in the Qur’ān itself, which refers to each as separate, and therefore distinct, categories of believers:

“Verily, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women…”6

This explanation as eulogized by the likes of Asad and Shahrur can be further compounded through the study of Chapter 114 of the Qur’ān, entitled An-Nās (‘Men’), which begins with the following proclamation: “Say: “I seek refuge with the Sustainer of men”7 (“Men” denotes humankind, and is not limited to the male gender). Assuming that the Qur’ān is the descriptive blueprint of the Islāmic prerogative, and the purest indication of what constitutes a Muslim, and Allāh’s self-described role is that of Creator and Guardian of men in the collective, the case could be made that Islām was decreed for the masses, even those who may not profess to be Muslim, or practice as one, but all those who ultimately bear witness to God as the “Sustainer of men”. Kenneth Cragg has suggested that “the ‘trinity’ of descriptives” contained within it [Chapter 114 of the Qur’ān], namely that of Allāh as the ‘Sustainer’ (Rabb), the ‘Sovereign’ (Malik), and ‘God’ (Ilāh) of men is a cue for the reader to “know these capacities on the part of Allāh as the solidarity of humanity in such inclusive care.”8 When recited, one cannot help but be moved by the poetic emphasis of God’s stature that this triadic expression reflects, as the “triple use of the one noun Ilāh […] to the one repeated an-nās, brings us all – and none uniquely – under the governance and jurisdiction of Allah as One.”9

In fact, this observation can be traced throughout the Qur’ān. God speaks of humankind and to humankind in the universal, accentuating his address in somewhat Marxian terms as “folk in their endless multiplicity.”10 He does not make distinctions, nor does He express favour towards any particular race, nationality, or religious grouping, including that of Muslims. In a similar vein, Cragg insists on an understanding of ‘men’, as translated by Asad [an-nās], as “all of us in an undiscriminating plural.”11 In light of this combined understanding, it is easy to acknowledge why many have suggested that Islām as analyzed through the Qur’ān has, for better or for worse, interpretation as the key determinant to its materialization. On the one hand, it leaves the door open for anyone and everyone to explore and engage with its contents, but on the other hand, it also means that ‘meaning’ can and has been monopolized by certain echelons of power, and vis-à-vis the institutionalization of Islām the religion.

Indeed, a final point to be made here is that whilst Muslims, who also happen to be followers of the Prophet Muhammad (a classification that has already been discussed), have mistakenly appropriated the meaning of Islām, and all that is contained within the ideology, it is important to refer back to the Qur’ān to confirm this error. Once again referring to Chapter 114 of the sacred text, Allāh refers to Himself as Ilāh al-nās “God of men”, not Ilāh al-muslimīn “God of Muslims”. This is hugely significant when emphasizing that God cannot be reserved simply to those who submit to His testimony. He is the ‘Sustainer’, the ‘Sovereign’, and the ‘God’ of humankind, not of the Muslims solely. This paper cites the appropriation of Islām as being demonstrable through the scope of a mentality that presents itself “as if Allāh were only Malik al-muslimīn.”12

This investigation seeks to build upon existing studies by opting to examine the fundamental causes of the appropriation of Islām, which has, historically and presently, hindered the necessity towards the harmonious (“…harmony being nothing other than “unity in multiplicity” (al-wahdah fi’l-kathrah) and “multiplicity in unity” (al-kathrah fi’l-wahdah)”13) transcendence of idiosyncrasies – idiosyncrasies that have plagued the human condition but which can and ought to be bypassed. This transcendence, it is hoped, would give rise to an argument in favour of a pluralistic ecosystem vital in sustaining critical yet progressive encounters across humanity – a social structure that recognizes that “cultural diversity is richness.”14

The attempts by European scholars to fracture the notion of the Ummah – “the entire, global community of Islām”15 – and of a universal Islām, vis-à-vis the expression Black Islam, as though it is an ideology in and of itself is significant but not directly relevant to this study. Diagne notes that “this category of a “Black” specificity within the Umma, the Islāmic community of believers, was politically and ethnologically constructed in derogation of the notion of the Islāmic Umma.”16 In light of the fact that history concedes that there have been continual and deeply penetrative attempts to segregate various Muslim communities from one another, and in particular that the micro-label Black Islam “was needed by the colonial system for political purposes, mainly to shield the sub-Saharan areas from the so-called pan-Arabic or pan-Islāmic threat to Western colonial domination”,17 Muslims do themselves a great disservice by exacerbating these colonial legacies through an ‘othering’ of their own. As such, one ought to be wary of compartmentalizing fellow believers. It is a cause for dismay that what Diagne refers to as ‘ethnologism’ is something that is practiced within the Muslim community, namely “as a form of tribal thinking – something that Islām is meant to fight – [but] that considers the Arab peoples to be at the center of the Umma.”18

Thus, a categorical and uncompromising distinction between the act of islām, which forms the basis of every religion that recognizes a Divine Entity to whom the human being is advised to surrender to, and the institutionalized religion of Islām are two separate concepts that, whilst not necessarily mutually exclusive, have been utilized interchangeably when they should not be. This erroneous synonymy has contributed to what shall be referred to as the ‘appropriation’ of Islām: that is to say, the hijacking of the act of islām, which is not exclusive to the religion (institution) of Islām, but has been mistakenly assumed as such. In so doing, a series of four intermediary discussions concerning the constituents that are collectively responsible for the appropriation of Islām shall be discussed.

The first is the rejection of epistemic doubt, or the refusal to adopt a healthy dose of scepticism, which has been identified by a multitude of philosophers and epistemologists as absolutely essential to the growth of knowledge and the fortification of belief systems. The permanence of human fallibility necessitates the utilization of doubt in dethroning dogmatism, building upon existing knowledge, and responding to authority and intellectual dictatorship. Tariq Ramadan has noted that “doubt about self is thus allied to deep trust in God. Indeed, trials of faith are never tragic in Islamic tradition.”19 As such, the exercising of doubt is of paramount importance in the regulation of religious conviction, for to doubt is to recognize one’s fallibility, which is a constant reminder that the quest for truth is not straightforward, and that the appropriation of anything in this context, but particularly of Islām, is mistaken. The second alludes to the unchecked embrace of institutionalization and the damage it has done in terms of constricting an ideology that is by its very nature universal, as well as the interplay of power and legalistic authority. The third constituent cites the dismissal of intellectual humility as an accompaniment and a quintessential hallmark of Islām. A willingness to accept defeat and refutation at each and every stage of one’s journey is of critical importance, yet largely underestimated. Indeed, Islām hinges itself upon an overwhelming humility, which not only steers the human’s ability to surrender to God, but also has the power to reconfigure the entire human paradigm. The fourth and final constituent refers to the defiance towards transcendentalism within some elements of the Muslim tradition, which manifests in a number of ways, shedding light on sub-chapter topics pertaining to the feasibility and necessity of pluralism, and the scope for inclusivity contained within it.

What is of primary concern here is the subtle yet substantial attack on Islām, ironically and unknowingly perpetrated by Muslims themselves. This attack should not be underestimated. Yet, the intention is not to antagonize the followers of the religion of Islām, nor is the objective to entirely denounce the institution itself. Rather, the aim is to release Islām from the reins of dogma and the echelons of powerful jurisdiction that have suffocated its grace, bound its subscribers, and excluded everybody else. Ultimately, this should be looked upon as an overwhelming defence of Islām as a truly inclusive outlook geared towards God-consciousness, humility, and goodness, and which has the unique capacity to leave no one behind.


Footnotes

1- Shomali (2010) Religion and Freedom, p.141
2- Asad (2003) The Message of the Qur’ān, p.31, note 91
3- Asad (2003) The Message of the Qur’ān, p.1011, note 17
4- Shahrur (2009) The Qur’an, Morality & Critical Reason, p.21
5- Ibid, p.21
6- 33:35, Al-‘Ahzāb (The Confederates), p.724
7- 114:1, An-Nās (Men)
8- Cragg (2005) The Qur’an and the West: Some Minding Between, p.17
9- Ibid, p.17
10- Ibid, p.16
11- Ibid, p.17
12- Ibid, p.20
13- Eaton (1994) Islam and the Destiny of Man, p.220
14- Diagne (2004) Islam in Africa: Examining the Notion of an African Identity within the Islamic World, p.381
15- Cragg (2005) The Qur’an and the West: Some Minding Between, p.211
16- Diagne (2004) Islam in Africa: Examining the Notion of an African Identity within the Islamic World, p.376
17- Ibid, p.377
18- Ibid, p.377
19- Ramadan (2008) The Messenger: The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad, p.5

On submission

Submission. ‘Islām’.  Submission isn’t necessarily about rituals, prophetic missions, institutional constructs, and religious directives. In fact, to be pronouncedly bold here, submission has little to do with the above at all. In its widest, most universal, and truly human sense, submission describes an attitude whereby one accepts, embraces, and confronts one’s feelings, one’s wounds, one’s conflicts (internal and external), one’s doubts, one’s aches. To explore them and truly understand that they are there, and that they are not going anywhere. It is an outlook, an etiquette, that, once adopted, births the key to one’s liberation, to placid emancipation, to ceasing to seek control, for that cannot and should not be sought. One must own the emotions that brew in the fabric of Being through this subtle yet conspicuous submission. This submission should not and will not act as a cue for passivity and lazy despair if it is thoroughly and truthfully internalised. On the contrary, it is only through acceptance, and subsequent ownership, that one is empowered. Empowerment is the doorway to an understanding of the self in its most meaningful sense. Self-knowledge arms the beholder with the fated predicate for growth and progression. And, perhaps, this is the purpose of Life. To foster positive and progressive growth. To defy regression. It is a seemingly relative and subjective journey. Ironically, though, it is in the depths of this solitary pilgrimage that the path to the One is manifest. That the Objective is glimpsed. That Unity in the midst of wild multiplicity is realised. And that is a thing of Natural Beauty. And a reason to keep trying.

Animal conditioning

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever” – George Orwell

The man wearing a penguin-shaped beanie rhythmically beat the cardboard box with an empty Lucozade bottle, the other blew into a poorly harmonica connected through a cord to a megaphone to amplify the sound. They sat on the cold floor directly beneath the bus shelter, busking. Having just bought some groceries from Al-Kawthar, a quintessentially claustrophobic Arab convenience store, I now stood waiting at the same bus stop with mama, positioned directly beside them. People nattered away as they awaited the bus, some cracking jokes with the non-English-speaking buskers, others weaving through the crowd to offer their spare change. In the midst of this flurry of activity, I, some may say rather self-indulgently, ranted away to mama about how a purported ‘first-world’, developed country of this calibre could harbour such a flagrant manifestation of poverty. If you’d prefer to see for yourself the ruins I speak of, take a 10-minute stroll down Kilburn High Road around midday next Saturday.

The sad truth is that last Saturday afternoon, all was in order. Status quo: check. Impoverishment is the order of the day, served to those deployed at the bottom of the literal and metaphorical food chain. Mama responded the way she always does when I succumb to this mood: who said life is fair habibti (darling)? My mother has seen her share of pain and injustice, so I thought it best to recoil back into my reflections inaudibly. That is until two blue-eyed men in jeans and backpacks silently approached the men on the floor, towering over them. “Can I see your I.D.?” The makeshift buskers dropped their scraps and stood up, handing over some form of identification, taking silent glances at each other as one of the men scanned their I.D., the other pulling out his walkie-talkie and sharing a ‘joke’ with a colleague on the other end of the line: “we got ’em”. Predatory; as though he’d just caught a fish for that evening’s impending supper. By this point, the rage was too much to bear.

img_6527A few minutes had now passed, and the walkie-talkie-gripping officer (pictured, in the navy hoodie) stared at the buskers with a smug, racist smirk that emanated from the depths of his veins. He clearly lived for moments like this. “You’re both under arrest for begging on Kilburn High Road”. The buskers said nothing. I eventually worked out that the person on the other end of the walkie-talkie was another covert patroller doing the discreet MI5-style surveillance rounds. This third officer was stationed on the opposite side of the road, standing beside a telephone box, suspiciously hiding something. That something, it turned out, was another man. Handcuffed, I presume his crime was also poverty.

I stood, frozen and incapable of processing the disdain. It is humiliating enough to have to sit on the cold streets of a foreign country and rely on people’s passive generosity to survive the day. Being arrested and criminalised for it is a whole new level of degradation. “Yasmina, the bus is here!” Mama snapped me out of my daze of disgust. Feeling utterly helpless, I reluctantly trailed behind the crowds. As I walked past the buskers, the penguin hat-clad arrestee spoke his only words to the officers throughout the entire episode, attempting to explain his predicament: “…no money, no food, no job…”. Needless to say, his captors didn’t bat an eyelid. Blank faces. Heartlessness must be your forte for that statement to completely dodge your conscience. As far as they were concerned, they were ‘just following orders‘: cleansing the streets.

Meanwhile, the masses scrambled onto the 98 bus as though the world was on the verge of an apocalypse. Amidst the ensuing hysteria ahead of me, a man about my height donning a purple beanie stood to my left and asked me if the men about to transport the buskers to Wembley Police Station were immigration officers. “They look like undercover policemen to me, chasing after the poor and jobless” I replied, desperately holding back tears. He asked me if I was from ‘here’. “I was born here, but I’m Iraqi”, my sorrow now transforming into an irate bitterness. He nodded, and I returned the question. He had arrived here from Brazil last May and is currently learning English. Appearing concerned but unshaken by what we had witnessed, the man’s smile restored a sense of transient peace in me for a moment. We both eventually managed to squeeze onto the bus, but the Poundland bags obstructed our close proximity and ended our brief encounter.

For the five stops I saw through on the 98 before disembarking, I cried. Painfully. Tears soaked my hair. I did not care who was looking at me. The man I had just spoken to sent a few glances in my direction and probably thought I had issues. Maybe I do. Maybe I need to get a grip. Maybe this is the human condition: ugly and brutally inhumane. My thoughts all shared a theme that I can’t articulate as anything other than scandalous. Why do people from all over the world give up everything to flock to this country, to displace their native tongue with English, the semantics of imperialism? Why is it that a man from Brazil has travelled 8,963 kilometres to the United ‘Kingdom’, uprooted himself from the land that birthed him, his culture and family, to live on processed Iceland food and learn someone else’s language? Why is Kilburn High Road literally brimming with homeless souls? Why does this godforsaken system treat the vulnerable with such absurd criminality? How can this ‘Kingdom’ so easily get away with pillaging the world, then demonise and enslave the victims in the aftermath of her bloody conquests? Our motherlands, from Iraq to India, are destitute, exploited, and broken. Our families had no choice but to flee from the colonial shackles, yet it is with a tinge of irony that here, the Establishment would gladly have the public perceive us as the settlers, stealing jobs, infesting streets, diluting their manufactured ‘British-ness’. They robbed the daylight out of Kabul, and now they wonder incessantly why we’re here. We are the downtrodden, hardly surviving on the subsistence-level offerings this construct makes us labour tooth and nail for. If those who are so bothered by immigration want to get to grips with why we’re here, the riddle has more to do with how many homelands the British Empire has raped than the fact that we gluttonously want a slice of the sophisticated English pie. Every effect has its cause.

A relative recently advised that I end my posts on a ‘happy’ note. I pledged that I would but I wish to break this pledge in favour of frank reminiscence. Who am I to be sat here sugar-coating the very blatant and shameful reality on the ground: that we live in a country, and indeed a world, where homelessness, unemployment, and being on the cusp of starvation, striving for the crumbs of the crumbs, is a criminal offense. Whilst it may have soothed the souls of all who read this had I painted a scene of uplifting optimism, that sentiment hasn’t surfaced on my radar since Saturday. Our uncompromisable obligation must be to reverse the animal conditioning which has emphatically succeeded at wiping out our moral compass, to humanise humanity. It may not transport us to the belly of euphoric happiness (in the trivial sense of the word), but it will impress upon us the hard truths that we let slide all too easily. There are two men locked up in a prison cell right now for having nowhere to seek refuge in except a concrete-floored bus shelter in a land far from their home. That should bother us beyond comprehension. That should reduce us to tears.

Feeding, housing, and affording a dignified standard of living to each and every person is not unrealistic by any stretch of the imagination. We have the means. That, there is no doubt; there are at least a couple of trillion dollars floating around the world, albeit consolidated in a very minute number of hands. As for the will? Non-existent would be a substantial understatement, but we have the power to (re)calibrate that. We could also do with installing a police force that chases after HSBC tax evaders, the Westminster establishment’s paedophilia rings, and Tony Blair, rather than catching out homeless buskers. With their uniform visibly on. In any case, I leave you with Tupac Shakur, because he said it better than I ever could:

“I feel like there’s too much money here. Nobody should be hitting the Lotto for $36 million when we got people starving in the streets. That is not idealistic. That’s just real. That is just stupid… There’s no way that these people should own planes and these [other] people don’t have houses, apartments, shacks, drawers, pants. I know you’re rich. I know you got 40 billion dollars, but can you just keep it to one house? You only need one house. And if you only got two kids, can you just keep it to two rooms? I mean why have 52 rooms and you know there’s somebody with no room? It just don’t make sense to me. It don’t.” – Tupac

Unplugged

“The self-assured believer is a greater sinner in the eyes of God than the troubled disbeliever” – Søren Kierkegaard

I was sneered at with pity, frowned upon with telling eyes that bequeathed a sense of “you’re in need of reform” when I once entered a room brimming with hijab-clad women. Such instances used to unlatch a deep sense of insecurity back when my mind was colonised by conformity. My saturday arabic school teacher would stare me out and enunciate “hell” with such visuality whenever the topic of headscarves dictated our lesson that my subconscious remained haunted by those punishing red flames for what was left of the weekend. Although I have experienced some of the most remarkable exhibitions of condemnation amongst (some) Muslim circles throughout my life, I do not doubt that arrogance is a human trait, not a prescription of Faith. Nevertheless, the course of judgement is perverse.

We have long endured a stifling complacency within our community which, in short, forbids the rumination of said beliefs concerning our human condition. Today’s collective Muslim psyche has rarely pondered inwardly – instead it issues condemnations and passes judgement on everything and everyone that doesn’t subscribe to its narrow-minded outlook. Never did my teacher advise me to trust my conscience. Yet, the more I’ve probed my conditioned perception of God and what it means to be a believer, the more I’ve unearthed of my love for the Divine.

Broadly speaking, I take offence to the way some Muslims pharisaically project. Proudly declaring yourself a ‘Muslim’ does not grant you sovereignty over Truth. In fact, I would argue that the very notion, ‘Muslim’, has been appropriated by Muslims, thereby excluding many people from our community (and beyond) who may not fit the physical mould that currently prevails yet submit their affairs to the Almighty. Knowledge is communal, and Truth cannot be monopolised. Our community would do well to disembark its high horse and realise that once the objectionable hobby of dispensing judgement and issuing petty fatwas ensues, we have become deviant, not divine. Religious bigotry is unashamedly repugnant at best.

Knowledge that leads to Truth does not discriminate on the basis of material dimensions, dress codes, or religious hierarchies. The extent to which Truth manifests depends on the vitality of the soul, and its digestion is contingent upon the quality of the mind that navigates the journey of discovery. Few have the courage to detach from the robotic and feeble course of dogmatic absorption and opt to seek Truth in solitude. The tyranny of the unthinking majority and the quantitative advantage of the consumers of practicality mean that this status quo will persist. Blindly devouring clerical directives is not Islam. We have been exposed by our own habits and conjecture as simply too presumptuous, too conditioned to question anything and everything we’re fed in the name of obedience, which is a painful actuality when considered in light of the fact that God prescribes for mankind that they think for themselves:

“Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? – or are there locks upon their hearts?” – 47:24

Ironic, isn’t it, how often the Almighty speaks of such “locks” throughout the Scripture, yet how little attention we actually give to that turn of phrase – after all, we have a habit of envisaging the figurative chains encircling our liberty as being external to us. But what if those chains, the cage we so often allude to and blame for our existential anxiety, are self-imposed? What if it is indeed a product of our own misconduct, misapprehension, and negligence?

To question everything you’ve been taught is not to doubt God as most will warn you. It is to seek Him. Anyone who tells you otherwise (and that would be a very substantial segment of the ‘religious’ community) is very much an embedded figurine, an impediment within the macro Truth-seeking battle that gives life its purpose. Under such circumstances, I would warmly advise you to beware of these obstructions, and to proceed by boldly dismissing their obvious cynicism. Explore the Path for yourself. It is no coincidence that those who are fearful about asking questions pertaining to certain practices and God happen to also be those who (usually) do not have sufficient answers to many of these questions, probably due to their lack of courage-in-faith, and confidence in the Shelter of their Lord.

“However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth” – John Stuart Mill

In light of the plague of extravagant self-regard that we have accustomed our sheikhs and ourselves to, are we galavanting towards dead dogma? Is this the living Truth? As long as the tyranny of institutionalised religion, disguised as viceroyalty, continues to reign over our free-thinking nature, spiritual docility will submerge us. That is to say, as long as one’s conduct is derived through the arbitrary architecture of clerics and so-called men of religious authority (many of whom just so happen to cunningly profiteer from the methodological mechanisation of the metaphysical) rather than that of God’s (n.b. these are proving to be two increasingly divergent paradigms), we will continue to recoil in the circle of life, and peace of soul will be but a distant, if not unbeknownst, dream. God endowed mankind with His Words, His Messengers, and His Essence, embedded in our nature by virtue of our humanity. Everything else is fanciful innovation, a ploy that the religious elite instituted to colonise your mind into submission to their power, not to God. Why else would they exist when God’s Laws are innately self-evident?

With all ambiguities pertaining to your ideology, regardless of which doctrine or book it happens to be rooted in, scrutinise them, explore them, doubt them – over and over again. Discern, for yourself, the Essence of the Holy Spirit from the largely superficial concoctions and practices you’ve been served. When you begin to feel overcome by a sense of triumph concerning your spiritual condition, dig deeper. Never cease to challenge your mind to decipher what it claims to know. If a great mind knows that it knows nothing (à la Socrates), so should the person housing that mind. The Infinite is inexhaustible.

Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Ride your own. Seize your conscience and teach it to seek inwardly, rather than solely through the local sheikh. Just as every fingerprint bears its own maze, so too does every soul’s imprint. The campers of complacent religiosity will probably undermine your search for Truth. They will guilt-trip you, scare you, and shame you every time you take a step outside their black box. Let nothing faze you except the Magnificence of the One, Whose Light shades the seeker, and under which all darkness elapses.

Regardless of their pleas, unplug.

“Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth” – Ludwig Börne