Journey to the Heart of Islam: ر , ح and ت

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Curiosity. Like many Muslims, ر demonstrates a particular sort of curiosity towards learning about ‘Ahlul Kitaab’: the People of the Book. At my favourite bookshop (‘Blackstone’ on Whitechapel Road) there is a section dedicated to the Abrahamic faiths, I believe: the Hanif tradition (that of uprightness, Pure Monotheism).

I joined the Jewish Society [at uni].

I mean, they were giving out free first-aid kits, so I thought, why not?

And ر had also tried to join her university’s Catholic Society, however they, apparently, did not want any Muslims to join. She reported them on the grounds of exclusionary practices, and they… ended up being disbanded.

The Qur’an exists as a manual for we Muslims, and it contains references to Biblical stories that had already been known to many people in pre-Islamic Arabia and its surrounding regions. The Qur’an had been revealed as a confirmation of that original Hanif message, and through it Allah also highlighted some corrections to be made, to the corruptions that had been introduced over time. Yet, still:

“Indeed, those who believe/trust and those who are Jews or Christians [‘Nasaaraa’] or Sabeans – those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and do works of righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” — Qur’an (2:62)

This makes me want to look further into the scriptures of the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, Insha Allah*.

Yesterday, I sat with ر , ح and ت. We, being ‘postcolonial [second-gen immigrant] Brits’, enjoyed some fish and chips together, no less. And, seeing as this had been a gathering of (interesting and unique) Muslims, I felt I had to bring out my notebook and pen. I told them to blink twice if they had been feeling exploited. I believe ت had blinked around ten times. [The price of friendship.]

ح explains that Islam is a belief system: it provides us with standards, examples on how to live our lives. This does not mean that the experience of the Deen* is monochromatic; certainly, it does not look the same for everybody.

If one accepts Islam in one’s heart, it necessarily follows that we believe that Allah created us, and this universe. How our faces know to look different; the cadences of our languages. Our different experiences, what is in our (individual) Rizq*. We are all the same ‘thing’: human, and yet in various configurations.

Different versions of the same thing, and no two Muslims are ever fully alike. Generally, the differences may be put down to variations in terms of age/generation, gender, life experiences, (which are linked to) socioeconomic class, ethnic culture, and so forth. Yet, when it comes down to it, as ر explains: we are all leaves of the same tree.

“A good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky.” — Qur’an (14:24)

When I asked what the non-negotiables, then, are, in Islam: belief in the Ghayb (the metaphysical, the Unseen), i.e. the Jinn*, the angels (and not in the anthropomorphised, feminised way that is sometimes depicted, for example in churches. But in a way that is – at least at present – unknown to the limited human mind), the Day of Judgement. Prayer (the five daily Salāh) also, we agreed. And the Qur’an. Fasting, Hajj, the Prophets, Heaven and Hell; respect, and love and kindness. Giving, I would add, and not exclusively in terms of financial wealth, but also in terms of time and acts of service for others. And the belief in Pure Monotheism, undoubtedly. This is Islam.

Some people merely ‘abide by the rules’, and strongly enforce them, but Islam is not merely ‘rules’: it is a matter of the heart and the soul:

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but

[true] righteousness is one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakāh; fulfil their promise when they promise, and are patient [and steadfast] in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” — Qur’an (2:177)

ح’s parents had come to the UK from Lebanon, some thirty years ago. She is currently studying English at university (Masha Allah). We talked about women’s rights and feminism, and ح made it clear that she identifies as a feminist.

She says that “Islam is an inherently feminist religion.”

My current view is that the term ‘feminism’ now finds itself, in popular understanding, inextricable with notions of ‘liberalism’. I think that just as Islamic teachings advocate for the sharing of wealth, we need not advertise ourselves as being, say, ‘communists’ in order to demonstrate this belief. [Islam advocates for the sharing of wealth, and for the taking-care of the weak and poor in society, and for good treatment of people. And, yet, people have a right to be wealthy, own their own things, generate profit. Indeed, Allah made us different, blessed some of us, in certain regards, above others, and designed the ‘economic ways of the world’ so that some people work for others. Demand – wants – and supply – haves.]

ح argues that communism and feminism are distinctively different, since communism is closely associated with its own philosophy, history, and politics. She believes that simply ‘to believe that women deserve rights’ is to be a feminist. But I suppose the issue at hand, as is often the case with these things, is a matter of words, and definitions and associations. Nowadays, ‘feminism’ and ‘women’s rights’ might often be in primary reference to… clothes and to ‘economic freedoms’, i.e. the encouragement towards partaking in more economic (paid) labour. [But is this ‘liberation’?]

I ask ر if she identifies as a feminist. She is more focused on the fact that she’s just seen a spider in the bathroom, and finds herself subtly traumatised by this ordeal.

In terms of women in Islam, this is a long-term, deep-rooted passion of mine. And I agree that often we women do not understand our rights in Islam, as a result of… men who ‘gate-keep’.

Impressions of ‘authority’. What grants them weight and legitimacy? A uniform, a label? A lengthy beard and the knowledge of numerous particular terms? I cannot forget about the time I had witnessed a fairly ‘learned’ man speak ill of a known Muslim scholar, who is a woman. While speaking freely, arguably casually… with women.

As another friend of mine advises, don’t necessarily (blindly) trust the ‘showman sheikhs’, and especially not the ones who… talk too much about women, especially in an unfavourable way.

This is why female Muslim scholarship is of such high importance. The legacy of ‘Aisha (RA), arguably the most important scholar in human history (Masha Allah).

ح tells me about the presence of a line of female scholars in Lebanon. They are integral to their communities, and they are educated in Deen, and they teach. They are known as ‘Anisāt’. By contrast:

There is also a strong culture of Western influence – especially from France – in Lebanon (and the same in Syria. Britain in Jordan and Palestine). Secularism, notions of liberation from a ‘Western ‘liberalist’’ worldview. This, unfortunately, is coupled with a seeming obsession with conforming to Eurocentric beauty standards: cosmetic surgery is widespread there.

This reminds me of when I went with my family to Saudi in 2015, I think it had been. We had been going in order to do Umrah (the ‘semi-pilgrimage’, so to speak), and had to spend a day or something in Beirut, Lebanon. The plane had barely even landed, I think, before advert after advert on the behind-seat screens had been blaring information about cosmetic surgeons, cosmetic surgery, are you unhappy with the shape of your nose? And so forth.

Almost dystopian, I would say. Deeply normalised: entrenched. And, the contrast: between the simple white-and-black of this group on our way to Makkah, and the more… ‘Parisian-seeming’, rouged, potently-fragranced and shiny, Beirut, Lebanon.

ح continues by explaining that these encroaching attitudes of ‘modernism’ (by Western ‘liberalist’ standards, deeply entwined with economic ‘liberalism’) are connected to a culture among many modern-day Arabs of looking distastefully at whatever is ‘old-fashioned’: ‘Adeem’ (or, ‘Qadeem’, in Fus’ha – that is, ‘classical’, or ‘proper’ – Arabic).

To many, the Hijāb is ‘Adeem’. I sort of recently saw a video of an Egyptian woman explaining to a white non-Muslim journalist, I think it had been, that she “hates the hijāb”. She does not have to wear it, but she seems to hate it, with a passion. I believe this had come about after a Muslim woman – in Egypt, nominally a ‘Muslim country’ – had been ordered to exchange her ‘Burkini’ (modest swimwear) for something more revealing. She cried; she felt defeated and so upset.

This, ‘in the name of ‘liberation’’. In whose eyes, and for whose gain?

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women,

 the believing men and believing women,

the obedient men and obedient women,

the truthful men and truthful women,

 the patient men and patient women,

 the humble men and humble women,

the charitable men and charitable women,

the fasting men and fasting women,

the men who guard their private parts/chastity and the women who do so,

 and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so:

for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” — Qur’an (33:35)

I ask ح about her views on male-female segregation: the general separation of ‘spheres’. This would appear to be a point of contention for many, including a Christian person I know, whose belief seems to be that such a notion ‘belongs in erstwhile times’. [‘Get with the times!’]

ح explains that ‘free-mixing’, in her view, is disallowed in Islam. Non-Mahram* men shouldn’t freely, casually interact with non-Mahram women. In her household, for instance, at dinner parties, the men and women eat in different parts of her home. At the same time, and the same food, but in different places.

I ask her about weddings, then, in her ethnic/religious culture. She said that it depends on the individuals, the families. Sometimes, the men and women celebrate on different days. A Muslim wedding is two parts: the Nikkah declaration, and the Walīma (feast). Sometimes, ح explains, they are segregated events, and without music, but with Nasheeds (Islamic devotional songs) instead. Sometimes, the groom will drop his wife off to the venue, while she is in hijāb (modestly dressed), and while her (female) guests are too. When he leaves, the guests can relax and enjoy themselves. I like this idea.

In line with the topic of ‘free-mixing’ and segregation [an Islamic teacher at the school I worked at for a year taught me about the guidelines that ought to be exercised with non-Mahram men: keeping it public, purposeful, and professional. The three Ps.] I explained to my friends that one of my class groups from the sixth form we had attended had invited me to go out with them to eat. Because it is going to be a mixed thing, I declined the invitation (as politely as I could) but also worried – as I sometimes do – that people would come to perceive me as being this or that: in particular, those of the group who are not Muslim.

But I think they get it. Because two of the non-Muslims in the group made sure to look for Halāl restaurants, for the members of the group who are Muslim. One of my non-Muslim friends from that class is from Albania, and she understands Islamic terminology and such, since members of her family use them. And, also: as I learned yesterday…

Someone from this former class of mine – ethnically Italian, class joker – has taken his Shahādah*. When I heard this, I felt something quite deep: my heart felt something, and I kind of wanted to cry. How amazing, Masha Allah. [It usually is the ‘class clown’, nice type that are actually rather serious and deep thinkers. ‘Behind-the-scenes’.] How exceptional, Masha Allah.

It is amazing because: Allah chose him specifically. How special he must be, in the Eyes of Allah.

Is it patronising of me to write, here, how deeply proud I am? [In Jannah, Insha Allah, we can eat some otherworldly-good cake together. And everyone’s invited].

I ask ح about her views on music. Her view is that it is okay so long as the lyrics are not bad. ر adds that, like many, she found herself listening to music that had a good beat. But actually, the lyrics had been sort of shameless. ‘Hayaa’ (shyness, self-respect in the form of humility, a sensitivity to shame and dishonour) is a part of being Muslim.

These conversations on music remind me of something I have read fairly recently, about linguistics. Humanity is inextricable from linguistics: words carry weight, and they are emotionally heavy, also, and the nature of mankind is emotional. Words mean things that is their point and linguistics can be summarised as the relationships between sounds and meaning.

The Qur’an was revealed in words, and we say ‘I love you’, in words. A human baby comes into human autonomy with the introduction of words into its vocabulary: a shift from guttural and confused babbles and cries. Into meaning, and not solely sound. We express wants, thought processes, our ideals, our selves, through… words.

And words can be violent, too: they make us feel things, and do things, even ‘subliminally’ and/or gradually, over time. They affect how we think about things, and indeed we think through… words.

A lot of modern-day music – even if we argue that we are clever enough to filter away what we do not actually agree with – contains meanings of… misogyny, promiscuity, the advocation of certain lifestyles whose very proponents victims, even are testament to how soul-destroying they are. The drugs, merely to ‘feel something’. The using-women-as-objects, to ‘feel something’. The mindless materialism. And so forth.

As with (perhaps all) Muslims who are mature in terms of age, there are questions that I have. Pertaining, for example, to the nature of Hadīth, and to music, and so forth. Islam is a way of life, and it is a way of life that encourages ongoing renewal, discovery, facing challenges, and learning.

When ر first met ت, she had seen… a South Asian wearing a headscarf. She admits that she had come to the initial conclusions that ت might have been “boring, judgemental, and annoying”. None of us are quite immune from the tendency to make quick judgements of such natures.

But then she got to know her better: the time-and-time-again realisation that there is so, so, much that makes up a human being (Masha Allah. How exceptionally, wonderfully well we have been made). Now, ر and ت are very close, Masha Allah.

ر had been the type of person, at our school, to randomly stop people in the corridors, to hug and compliment them. She also seems to have this strange obsession with… ‘head shapes’, able to discern who has a good, or even ‘perfect’, one.

And it is hard to tell what people are actually going through, ‘behind-the-scenes’, but everybody is. ر’s story is a very difficult one, and this is the person she chooses to be (Masha Allah). Sunshine for others, even when she might not quite feel like it inside. She does not, for example, want to turn out “miserable and hollow” like certain people who really mistreated her. Instead, she would like to do things like help kids in Egypt – her family’s home country.

Islam is something that ر began to navigate ‘on her own’. She talks about the effect of some people who seek to ‘attract’ people to the Deen by being… quite inherently repulsive in their actions. A ‘strangling’ effect, she calls it. Islam, however, is something that must be accepted ‘in the heart’, she explains.

You have to open your heart, and allow the Qur’an to “proper speak” to you.

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ

“Oh Turner of hearts, make my heart steadfast upon Your Deen.”

Certainly, ours is a ‘proselytising’ faith, in that we are meant to do works of ‘Da’wah’ (‘calling’ people to the faith). We explain the principles of our belief, we are meant to embody said principles in our actions. But, at the same time, to paraphrase ح, “you keep your business to your business.”

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

“For you is your way of life and for me is mine.” — Qur’an (109:6)

ر talks about the Muslim’s relationship with the Qur’an. It is about, to paraphrase her, taking the words, understanding them (and their linguistic subtleties, for example, and their historical contexts), putting them into your heart, and acting upon them. In ‘spirit’ (essences, principles, intention) and in ‘letter’ (laws, commands, directives). The heart/soul and the body.

We talk about the ‘LGBT’ movement too, and about the reactions of some Muslims. A very ‘reactionary’ way of addressing the issue at hand, in that the ‘rainbow movement’ seems to function as yet another symbol of encroaching ‘Western ‘liberal’ modernism’.

Some resort to verbal and physical abuse against proponents of the views of non-heterosexuality being okay in practice. ح states that this abuse is un-Islamic.

Here, I remember seeing a man dressed in a certain way – effeminately – walking past a group of young men (who are Muslim, I assume). They jeered at him, made him feel very uncomfortable. Would they have done the same to, say, a man walking with his girlfriend who hadn’t been wearing a headscarf? I think not, and it isn’t right either.

ح argues that these same seeming ‘ardent Muslims’ who sometimes violently oppose these individuals do not seem to harbour or demonstrate the same energy against… adulterers and such. ت comments on the major sins that have seemingly become quite normalised, even among Muslims: backbiting, people cheating on their spouses. So to cling inordinately to this singular issue might be indicative of… a ‘pick-and-choose’ version of practising Islam, and not necessarily one rooted in… sincerity, perhaps.

How can one attract to Islam by being inherently repellent in nature? By having an altogether-‘strangling’ effect?

“Make matters easy (for people) and do not make them difficult,

and give people glad tidings

and do not repulse them.” — Hadīth* (Sahih Muslim and Bukhāri)

ح is a ‘Sayyida’. Her lineage can be traced back to Muhammad (SAW)*. Some people are known to truly honour Sayyids and Sayyidas, but ح does not hold the view that it makes her ‘special’ in any way.

It is interesting how I met these beautiful people (Masha Allah) and others. Secondary school was one thing: at times, a day-in-day out, monochromatic uniform, conveyor belt into exams. People mainly from ‘my’ particular community, and then into a pocket of Central London we had all respectively, from our different secondary schools and parts of London and backgrounds, been plunged. The places and the people we have, and will, come across: Allah’s Divine Plan for us.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another.

Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-cognisant of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” — Qur’an (49:13)

Yesterday, I learned a new word from ح: ‘Ikhtilaaf’. It means ‘differing of opinion’. I ask something along the lines of: what is truth?

And: there is Objective Truth, and part of it, perhaps, is subjective experience. The Islamic view is that this life is a test. Each of us is being tested, based on what we, individually know. At various stages in our lives, in accordance with our individual circumstances. What we have access to, how sincere we are, in relation to Truth.

Sensitivity Warning from here onwards: themes of animal meat and slaughter

ر is a passionate environmentalist (Masha Allah). She feels that Alhamdulillah, we’ve been given these amazing, beautiful things that we’ve been given. We should embrace them, and take care of what Allah has given us.

“And it is He who has made you successors/vicegerents upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” — Qur’an (6:165)

I’m not quite sure how our conversation had arrived at… animal welfare, but it did. ر talks about the Halal method of slaughtering an animal for food. The animal must be raised in a clean space, where it is allowed to move around freely. She talks about the “way the human dies” too – animal! She means animal! [Freudian slip?]

The animal is not allowed to see the blade. It must be a sharp blade. Other animals cannot witness the slaughter. If it is done right, and with the right, calming prayers uttered: the animal tends to submit.

Sometimes, the animal twitches after its death. ح, an English student, talks about the theory of ‘galvanisation’, which had been prevalent around the time when Mary Shelley had written ‘Frankenstein’. [I also know about this because I had to teach about this book last academic year]. ر adds that twitching doesn’t necessarily mean:

You’re aliiive!

And I forget if it had been ح or ر who had said this, but:

“[This] Earth is so beautiful.

Our bodies are so complex.

Pregnancy is mad.

[Masha Allah].

To be Muslim: to know that we are being tested. What is Halāl is Halāl and what is its opposite is its opposite. To know that Allah made humans, and made this Deen for us too. There is room for humour, and for personal inclinations and such. It is not about being ‘free’ in terms of beckoning to every whim and fleeting fancy, inner desire we might have. It is also not about feeling spiritually ‘strangled’.

To be Muslim also necessitates an intellectual humility, since:

“Allah is the only One that knows everything.”

Meanwhile, what we refer to as ‘science’ is “ever-developing”. Empiricism: relying on observation, sensory experience. But we also know, perhaps even empirically, that our minds are quite limited.

 ح explains that we ‘know’ that the moon is a circle. “Sphere,” ر corrects. ‘Science’ is a thing of theories and disproving theories. We could find out, at some point in the future, that, contrary to our previously-held convictions based on observation: the moon is actually… a square. [“Cube,” I imagine ر correcting, here.]

Islam and Science. I’d like to find out more about ‘scientific’ and knowledge-related developments under the Golden Age, Insha Allah. Under Islam, we have an epistemological grounding, a framework. That Allah Knows, while we can know, but still, in limited ways, and only by His Will.

ت adds that part of being Muslim is being comfortable in this ignorance. We have to live by that, in terms of understanding the world, the universe, our own lives. We have to put our trust in Allah.

We are fundamentally unsure about things. We’re tested through matters pertaining to knowledge, too, arguably. But we can ask our Creator, regarding them. And then we have to be patient.

“And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the call of the caller when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” — Qur’an (2:186)

Branching off from the topic of galvanisation, we talk about that age-old ‘dichotomy’ between ‘science’ and ‘rationality’, and romanticism. ‘Sense’ versus ‘sensibility’: a key topic of thought in the 19th Century, and it still is, today.

Oh, stop being so irrational!” might effortlessly say the ‘rationalist’, to the ‘religious ones’. But, sure, there are numbers, and science, and logical trails. Things that happen ‘instantly’, and things that ‘click into place’ without resistance. Allah has designed this world of ours so that there is also such beauty (Masha Allah) and poetry, and harmony. Stories, and complexity; so many variables, perspectives. How could one side of the world (‘male’: ‘rational’, ‘logical’, ‘scientific’, precise and ‘numerical’, strategy and decisiveness) be isolable from its other? [‘Female’: intuitive, beautiful, spiritual, flowers and complexity, emotional and poetic, colour and culture]. By the Design of Allah, the world is made up of, and in need of, both.

We touch on the topic of ‘mental health’, also. People truly are iceberg-like. Everybody knows to hide certain things; people are fighting harder battles. Even the one who seems ‘happy and outgoing’ all the time. We show different ‘faces’ to different people. Many seemingly ‘effortlessly social’ people actually have “massive social anxiety”. Perhaps a rephrase is in order, however: the most ‘anxious’ of us usually care the most.

‘Depression’ is widespread, also, though not always apparent. Allah does say in the Qur’an that, in accordance with the Islamic view of this Dunya (this world) being a place of test: we will be tested in our own selves too.

ر spoke about the things that people do, in order to ‘escape’, and/or to ‘feel something’. These are often the basis of many of the images that it is easy to look to, thinking that those things might show what ‘truly living’ must be like.

The deepest depressions, too: in the Catholic spiritual tradition, there is a phenomenon known as ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’. I think I have been through mine already (2019, perhaps). It describes a time of… enhanced, amplified, feelings of ‘lostness’, depression, hollowness. It tends to be extremely hard – like ‘rock bottom’, perhaps, and then even further. But: what is actually happening is, perhaps, that “the egoic sense of self” is dying:

“The “dark night of the soul” is a term that goes back a long time.  Yes, I have also experienced it. It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life… an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything. Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event, some disaster perhaps, on an external level.  The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death, for example if your child dies. Or you had built up your life, and given it meaning – and the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses.

It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away anymore, some disaster which seems to invalidate the meaning that your life had before.  Really what has collapsed then is the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it. So that results in a dark place.  But people have gone into that, and then there is the possibility that you emerge out of that into a transformed state of consciousness. Life has meaning again, but it’s no longer a conceptual meaning that you can necessarily explain.  Quite often it’s from there that people awaken out of their conceptual sense of reality, which has collapsed.

They awaken into something deeper, which is no longer based on concepts in your mind.  A deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life […]  It’s a kind of re-birth. The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die. What dies is the egoic sense of self. Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died there – only an illusory identity.  Now it is probably the case that some people who’ve gone through this transformation realized [sic] that they had to go through that, in order to bring about a spiritual awakening. Often it is part of the awakening process,

the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.” — Eckhart Tolle

The ‘phoenix falling [deeply], the phoenix flying [Masha Allah, Alhamdulillah*]’. I think, if this really is a somewhat-universal (though, of course, very individually experienced) experience, then: this is when we really come to realise what… the life of this Dunya* is:

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and (there is) Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.” — Qur’an (57:20)

For more on this Āyah*, including a closer linguistic look at the words employed:

ر goes on to talk about one of her Science classes back at sixth form [I am the only one in this group who hasn’t been to university. Yet, Insha Allah, and] the others agree that they found their ‘people’ neither at secondary school nor at university. But, there: at our sixth form. [What a unique experience, Masha Allah, being at that school. So stressful, yet very special indeed.] In this class, ر’s teacher had managed to convince everybody that bananas are painted yellow. She (ر) might have been the only one who disagreed.

“What? Do elves come and colour them brown or something [when brown spots start to appear]?”

The conversational emphasis is on critical thinking. Trusting ‘authority figures’. Even teachers can be challenged (respectfully). Public figures, ‘famous Islamic scholars’. ح says that some of these bearded ‘part-of-a-mosque’ figures use religion as a tool – a weapon – to justify their ‘misogyny’.

She does not think that complete ‘obedience to one’s husband’ is a part of Islam, like how some make it out to be. This is also something that I would like to look more closely at, Insha Allah.

Cross-culturally, in general, there are four different ‘schools of thought’ in terms of how Islam is, on the whole, practised: Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali, and Māliki. In the subcontinent (which comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and arguably parts of certain other countries too, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka) the Hanafi school seems to be the most popularly-followed one.

Personally, I am yet to come to a conclusion on which school I follow, but Insha Allah, I’ll know more about that as time (and my life, and learning) goes on.

Islam points to the Oneness of God. It is not robotic, monochromatic and homogenous. It is not an absolutely-homogenising factory. We have been made into nations and tribes, to come to know one another. With our own individual stories, journeys, cultures and experiences.

ح argues that the attitude of strict ‘homogenisation’ is prevalent among Wahhabis [an Islamic revivalist movement and doctrine that started within Sunni Islam and it is associated with the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. 18th Century]. She thinks that this movement is one of ‘rules, rules, rules’, and adds somewhat vehemently that the movement is one about ‘living by hate’.

“Can I write that?”

Of course.”

She thinks that the opposite of ‘Wahhabism’ is ‘Sufism’: believing in, living by, love. Her view is that if Muhammad (SAW) had been alive today, he would have been labelled a ‘Sufi‘, perhaps.

We go on to talk about more sometimes-controversial topics, and some more that are often ‘brushed under the rug’. Sexuality, for example. A Muslim is meant to have Hayaa’, and yet matters pertaining to sexuality should be discussed. These things are inextricable from humanity, reality. Heavy-handed and in-denial ‘repression‘ in these regards is more… Victorian than anything. [The early Muslims, I believe, quite-‘openly‘ discussed these things. This Deen is Designed with… humanity in Mind]

‘Slavery’, also. Islam advocates for the freeing of slaves. And ح explains how important context is. That there are rules outlining how ‘slaves’ should be treated… because it had been a part of the socioeconomic reality, the cultural fabric, then. With Islam having been introduced to pre-Islamic Arabia, where there had still been slaves living with families, they had to be clothed, fed, and treated well.

Nowadays, ح argues, people trying to reinstate practices of slavery (whose definition and associations have seemingly changed over time) have got it wrong, and there are all sorts of moral issues with the practice. In 2017, for example, details about the slave trade in Libya had become publicised: people being treated like cattle, trafficked. The Qur’anic directive is not to instate the practice, and especially not in these ways. But, instead: to liberate enslaved people from bondage.

Another ‘controversial’ issue that would appear to come up, again and again, in discourses pertaining to Islam, is that of war. ح says that Muslims in war, especially in contrast to European combatants, had displayed good conduct. ‘Honour’ is an important word in Islam, and to cultures with strong Islamic influences.

Meanwhile, says ح, the Europeans had been killing mercilessly, destroying culture, raping, murdering, forcing Christianity onto people, and while depicting Muslim civilisation as being the “barbaric” one. ‘Saracens’, and the like. It could be argued that such narratives are continued today: the present moment is a continuation of all those ones that have preceded it.

She says that, for example, when the Muslims had entered Spain, culture had been allowed to be retained. But with the introduction of Islamic principles. Numerous people had come to Islam of their own accord and will, after witnessing the Deen in action. [I do want to learn much more about Islamic history, Insha Allah].

The ‘modern world’ is one that is built on war. And war, like many things, is driven by… economics. Profit. The Taliban, for instance, had been funded by the Israelis and the Americans. When the ‘enemy’ had been… the Soviets. Written as clearly as day, even in British history textbooks. [The Taliban: another thing I want to learn much more about, Insha Allah]. The US: exploiting Middle Eastern lands and peoples for… economic gain. Power.

Afghanistan, through Western-political eyes: less people and human/environmental care. And, more: oil. Minerals. War. For money. ح and ر argue that the Taliban have been, and are being, used as a mere puppet. And as an excuse for intervention, and for further (profit-generating) interventions and conflicts.

An effective way to justify forcefully taking control of a region: look at these women! We need to ‘save’ them! ‘Liberate’ them!

By… destroying them, their homes, their children.

“It’s classic orientalism.”

And so, where is the Western ‘sympathy’, the interventions, for… the Uyghurs in China, for example?

I ask ح and ر if they think the Taliban’s intentions might be in the right place.

“I mean, I don’t speak to them,” comes ر’s response.

Something that intrigues me, also:

ح says something along the lines of them (the Taliban) being ‘pawns’ in a giant geopolitical chess game. Or, even less significant than a pawn: “truly” so.

And it is all connected, without a doubt: colonialism, orientalism, notions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘reform’ and ‘education’, even. Economic ideals of ‘development’, the manipulations of narratives towards particular end goals.

Coming back to the heart of Islam, however,

in ح’s words, even within Islam:

Everyone’s truth is different.

It’s not black and white.”

Even our Holy Book, the Qur’an: I forget where I had come across this idea, but it has been authored for the fisherman and the philosopher alike. Different eyes and minds look upon the same message, and understand it relatively differently. Some: perhaps, more literally. Some: more abstractly.

But internalising those words necessitates a sincere, open and humble heart.

The key words, here: Pure Monotheism. Sincerity. Heart. Context. Soul, and not merely some cold ‘body’ without one. Critical thinking.

Here, time goes on, and each ‘leaf’ that makes up this ‘tree’ is distinct. Still, the words and meanings of the Qur’an, and the essence of primordial religion, remain timeless.

“We have not sent down to you the Qur’an that you be distressed.

But only as a reminder/remembrance for those who fear [Allah].” — Qur’an (20:2-3)

We ended the day by sitting on my brother’s trampoline and gazing up at the sky [and later on – in the evening – the stars looked pretty amazing too, Subhan Allah*], and by playing a game my uncle had introduced me to:

‘Most Powerful Memory’ or ‘Foremost Characteristics’ or ‘A likely flaw’. Depending on the title of that round, you stop at each person, and the others go around and share their thoughts of, for example, the most powerful memory that comes to mind of the person whose turn it is. Well, what I had been reminded of yesterday is that… people remember how you made them feel. The human being is not only body, but: mind, heart, and soul. The company we surround ourselves with is integral to our experience of Īmān, and life. People are always going through things that we have no idea about: the faces we present do not show everything – not at all.

Finally, in the struggle to understand religion, and self, and world: it is not… so simple. Mental illness, for example, happens. We’re anxious. We’re not perfect. But how wonderful is it, that others will remember little things that you did, and said, and are? Things that might be ‘first-nature’ – not even just ‘second-’ – for you: the people who love you, know.

[And sometimes they ‘exploit’ you a little, so as to post something on their blog.]

In any case, life happens, in all the ways in which it does. ‘Your world’ can break, come undone, right before your very eyes, or even in the hiddenness, the privacy, of your very mind. Islam, and with the right places, and people, and

with the heart in mind:

Be still.

It is a calling from your Creator.

Like one of the statements in the Adhaan*… drop what doesn’t actually really matter. And:

“Come to success.

Things I would like to learn more about, Insha Allah:

  • Christianity; the stories of the Prophets, the Bible
  • Hadīth verification
  • The Taliban: past [going back to the time of the Crusades, even], and present.

*Insha Allah — ‘God-Willing’, in Arabic.

*Hadīth sayings attributed to/about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

*Deen — ‘Way of Life’.

*Dunya this current, transient world, before the eternal one (which is known as Ākhirah).

*Rizq provisions from Allah.

*Masha Allah ‘God has Willed it’. To express that good, beautiful things are from and by Allah.

*Alhamdulillah ‘Praise and Thanks are for God’.

*Jinn — beings that cannot be seen by human eyes. While humans are made of clay, they are made of smokeless fire.

*Mahram — for a woman: her husband, father, direct maternal and paternal uncles, sons, direct nephews, father-in-law, etc. and with her women. With these people, a woman can show her beauty and be more casual and close.

*Shahādah — declaration of faith in Islam. Bearing witness to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad (SAW) is His servant and Messenger.

* (SAW) —  an abbreviation for, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in Arabic.

*Āyah —  Qur’anic Verse, and/or ‘Sign’ [of Allah]

* Adhaan — the Islamic call to prayer.

* Subhan Allah — Glory is Allah’s; God is Perfect.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

One thought on “Journey to the Heart of Islam: ر , ح and ت

  1. This post was sooo interesting to read. So many wide ranging topics discussed in a single day. Mashallah.

    The bit about Muslim Spain reminded me of the following:

    In the late tenth century CE, Sancho inherited the throne of Leon. Unfortunately for him, his subjects used to call him “Sancho the Medically Obese.” He was subsequently deposed on account of this.
    Seeking a solution to his predicament, Sancho recieved word that a Jewish physician, Hisdai ibn Shaprut, could reportedly cure obesity. At this time, Hisdai ibn Shaprut was employed by the Muslim ruler of Córdoba to the south, so Sancho and his mother decided to pay him a visit.
    Upon his arrival, Abd al-Rahman the Third welcomed them as honoured guests, letting them stay at the palace until Sancho had shrunken down to a suitable size. Sancho soon returned to Leon and reclaimed his throne, signing a treaty of friendship with Abd al-Rahman.
    In short: A Christian sought treatment from a Jewish doctor at the court of a Muslim. That was Muslim Spain in a nutshell.

    Then came the inquisition. 😔😔

    Liked by 1 person

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