Some people argue that gap years – typically a period when a student takes a break between school and college or university, often to visit a foreign country – is a form of colonialism. This colonialism, they argue, is not in the form of acquiring, exploiting and expanding into other people’s land like the old days – but through young, western people going to underdeveloped countries for a period of time at the expense of the host communities. Continue reading
This poll, of course, is for young Muslims : (please click the link below to answer).
Recently, an ex-Muslim told me that he knew very little about Islam’s deep, spiritual tradition. And it’s worrying that so many people don’t. It’s one of the reasons why so many people doubt their faith.
Doubt is a good thing. It enables us to question what we believe and come to stronger convictions about them. Those too scared to doubt can become chained to their views, closed-minded and hostile to those who think differently. Continue reading
Nouman Ali Khan, the dynamic, popular American Islamic speaker had just finished his captivating Friday sermon on husn al dhan, having a good opinion of others, at the Metro Convention Centre, Toronto, Canada. It was one of those talks that, as soon as it finished, you see people turn to each other and just slowly nod their heads in unison, as if to say: Yeah, that was good!
After the prayer had finished, my friend Zakaria and I got up and started to walk towards the bazaar, which was in the same large hall as the prayer area. As we walked off, we noticed a graceful-looking figure behind us. Crowds were starting to surround him. Young men, all wanting to shake his hand and talk to him, gazed at his luminous face in a state of humility. This saint-like figure was Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui, a man who instantly radiates a sense of composure, gentleness and love.
There are certain people who have walked this earth that demand our attention, deserve to be known, if only because they have directed large swathes of humanity in a new direction. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, is, without doubt, one such person. A cursory glance over the books that have been written about Muhammad from an objective standpoint all indicate his nobility of character, his deep connection with God and the simple life he chose to lead. Continue reading
Here are some extracts from one of the most interesting books written on religion in the 20th century, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, by the metaphysician Frithjof Schuon.
Schuon is the founder of the Perennialist school, which, as his book suggests, believes in the unity of all religions.
Unlike many religious scholars who have argued against promoting esoterism to the masses – out of fear that people might be misled – Schuon believed it was necessary for a society to understand both religion’s outward and inward dimensions. If a religion’s intellectual, esoteric tradition isn’t known about, the inevitable result, according to Schuon, is atheism. Continue reading
Tim Winter or Abdal Hakim Murad, as he is known to Muslims, is an academic at Cambridge University, an Islamic scholar and one of Britain’s most influential Muslims. Strangely, and this is something he admits, the majority of British Muslims have never heard of him.
One of the obvious reasons is because he is an intellectual giant, the sophistication of his language makes him largely inaccessible to the masses and his calm and composed voice doesn’t appeal to those who want to hear an angry Imam shout about the evils of the West. Continue reading
First, a clarification: Young Muslims on Twitter (part 1) was neither intended to generalise any group of people, nor was my intention to “bash hijabis”. While the feedback was 95% positive, the difference in the way people interpreted it, i.e. some saying I generalised and others saying I didn’t, shows the difference in the way people read things. I deeply revere the hijab and deeply respect those who wear it. I understand from the Islamic tradition that the hijab is seen as a symbol of reverence for the holiness of women. I also understand the tremendous difficulties hijabis go through, it’s not easy. I would never want to add to your difficulties. So forgive me if I did offend any of you. Continue reading
There are many interesting phenomena taking place on Twitter, especially when one observes young Muslims. Never in history have young Muslims around the world interacted in such a way: forming friendships, learning from each other, attacking each other, turning into communities and trying to outdo and impress one another. Continue reading
“Some who fast obtain nothing from it but hunger and thirst.” Muhammad ﷺ
Sadly, it’s true. Many Muslims simply starve themselves during Ramadan and don’t understand the purpose behind fasting. Continue reading
As soon as the plane touched down on the runway of London Gatwick’s airport, my eyes welled up with tears and I felt a sense of grief. The realization had just dawned on me that I had, once again, been separated from the sacred: from a place where you are continuously reminded of the Divine to a world where the Divine is seemingly absent.
Akala doesn’t make music to entertain for the sake of entertaining, he rather provokes his listeners to question everything there is to know. He has never conformed to the stereotype many rappers are famous for. His lyrics contain virtually no mention of money, cars or hoes. He doesn’t appear interested in impressing everyone and his intelligence is, well, striking. Continue reading
Right Rev Richard Chartres has been the Bishop of London since 1995 and became the 132nd person to hold the position. He studied history at Trinity College Cambridge before going on to hold various positions of Chaplaincy. He is an author and is married with four children.
At the late Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in April, he gave a memorable sermon to a hall of her political allies and foes, in which he was praised for his words of calm, compassion and conviction. Continue reading
Following the deadly explosions near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, leaving three people dead and at least 140 injured, the reactions by Muslims, Islamophobes and those who do no fit into those two categories have been highly revealing. Continue reading
Today when I was at the Mosque, it was a shame to see so many people dozing off as the Imam gave his sermon. It clearly didn’t interest them enough to keep them awake. It’s a big problem: far too often Imams at Mosques repeat stories from the Quran that they’ve told many times before.
The Quran, however, is not just a book of stories. It deals with everything from cosmology and cosmography, to psychology and the existential questions philosophers have lost sleep over.
My blog in The Times today.
Ahmadi Muslims challenge mainstream Islam
There is a palpably tranquil atmosphere in the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, London. Hundreds of guests, including: MPs, Secretary of States and Senior Members of the Armed Forces, are slowly making their way into Western Europe’s largest Mosque – which can accommodate 10,000 worshippers – an impressive white building, donning a 16m dome and two lofty minarets.
The goal of the mystic is to allow human spirituality to always precede human psychology.
By allowing emotion to become the dominant force in our life, the spiritual component within us dissipates or lies dormant. Continue reading
Dear Professor Dawkins,
Today you tweeted a lot and also retweeted a lot. Below are my responses to most of those anti-religious tweets.
“God couldn’t think of a better way to forgive the sin of Adam (who never existed) than to have his son (aka himself) executed. Makes sense.”
One dark winter’s night, I was in bed, sitting perfectly erect, completely oblivious to my surroundings, my eyes fixated on the pages of the book I was reading – a book that was to change my life. Continue reading
On January 13 2012, my late father, may he rest in peace and light, died of cancer. We know that one in three of us will get cancer some time in our life – it’s a scary prospect but one we must acknowledge. My dad, unfortunately, first got cancer when he was about 41 or 42, which is pretty young. Age, however, is irrelevant: kids get cancer these days. Continue reading
Prominent Muslim women’s voices are generally lacking in mainstream discourse. However, things are changing: Yasmin Mogahed, 32, an Egyptian born American – popular for her public speaking and writing – is defying all the odds. Continue reading
Islam, being the youngest of the three Abrahamic religions, has had the least amount of time to evolve, or “regenerate” as Martin Lings, the English writer and biographer of the Prophet Mohammed, once put it. And it’s strikingly evident: while Christianity has accepted, and welcomed debate around, homosexuality and Darwin’s evolution theory, it pales besides the resistance of change within Islam. However, for the first time in Islam’s 1400-year history, these issues are finally being openly discussed, and rightly so. Continue reading
The 2011 Census results, which came out last week, showed that the amount of people who identify themselves as Christians has declined by four million since 2001. What’s more, 14 million people, about a quarter of the population, say they had no religion at all, a rise of 6.4 million over the decade. With the Church of England receiving such negative press lately, largely because of the decision not to allow women to become bishops and its opposition to gay marriage, the future of Christianity in this country is uncertain. Continue reading
Today is probably the first time in about a year where I have had hardly anything to do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sitting around doing nothing, Tweeting, Facebooking and grazing like a cattle, you know, searching the fridge every 25minutes. Instead I’ve occupied my mind with fairly useful activities: reading and thinking. Here are some random thoughts from today, some arbitrary but others perhaps intuited from something deeper. Continue reading
A piece I had published on the Times website on 29 November 2012.
For the first time in Islam’s history, a debate about homosexuality is beginning. While homophobia and the persecution of gays may still be rampant in Islamic countries, there are signs of change. LGBT Muslim groups are popping up all over the world, from Lebanon to the UK. Continue reading
It is often said that every religion claims the ‘truth’ and superiority over all others. It is one of the reasons why many people are weary about religion, perceiving them to be one and the same.
Islamophobia isn’t anything new and the idea that it started after 9/11 is wrong. It actually has a long history. Continue reading
Guest blog: Kim Dacosta
Has equality made man evolve into a species that is unnatural? The division between men and women is becoming blurred. Continue reading
After watching your video that you’ve just posted on Youtube, in which you seem frustrated, fed up and angry, highlighting that you no longer have a life, you keep getting arrested, you have court case after court case, your wife has been arrested, your house has been raided, you’ve done eight days in remand, you’ve served three days in a swiss jail, you believe the Metropolitan police have stitched you up, you have outstanding mortgage payments (which you can’t pay) and your EDL supporters are turning against you – I’d like to ask you a simple question: do you still want to do this? Continue reading
110,000 people in the UK have signed a petition to protect children from online pornography which will be handed to Prime Minister David Cameron next week, to put pressure on him to take action. The petition, signed by everyone from MPs to teachers, aims to combat the rocketing tide of online porn which is affecting young children. Last week, ChildLine published statistics showing that the number of children calling the helpline over the past year has soared by one third, due to children encountering hardcore porn. It’s natural for young children to act in disgust when faced with pornographic images – however, as we get older, innate feelings within human beings slowly dissipate. Continue reading
I was talking to a mature Muslim girl yesterday – who prays regularly, reads the Quran and comes across as a good Muslim – who said to me: “One thing I don’t like [about Islam] is Sharia Law.” What she meant by “Sharia Law” was stoning, lashing and chopping off hands, i.e. the corporal punishments and penal codes. I felt compelled to remind her of something: First, the corporal punishments associated with Islam account for a small percentage of Sharia Law. The majority of Sharia is to do with one’s spirituality, like praying, fasting and giving to charity, the Law also encompasses everything from economics to hygiene. Secondly, Sharia Law is profoundly nuanced: not only is it open to interpretation but it is flexible and able to move with the times. According to academic Scott Kugle, Sharia means a “broad pathway”. Continue reading
It’s a shame that this could be the first time you’ve heard about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Burma. News coverage on the plight of the Rohingya people – described by the U.N. as “one of the most persecuted people in the world” – has been scant, especially since sectarian violence flared in June. Continue reading
It is said that the quality which differentiates human beings from animals is the that of rationality – although many would dispute this. While we possess rationality and intellect, we don’t always use these faculties: we turn them off and instead quite often act in complete accordance with our animal nature. Continue reading
If you don’t mind listening to swear words, slang and violent talk, and watching baseball-capped, jeans-sagging, skull-wearing former gangstas for a couple of hours, this film is for you. If you don’t, this film is still probably for you. Nas, regarded as one of greatest rappers alive, remarks in the film: “I’m a grown man now, I have no business wearing saggy jeans, but I might let it sag a little bit just to annoy you few stiff motherf******.” Hyperbole aside, The Art of Rap, a film directed by Ice T, is all about intelligence. Continue reading
Friday the 13th of this month made six months exactly. I actually forgot on Friday that it had been six months since you had died. How could I forget? Continue reading
Know your Lord
This is the essential question which lies at the heart of all religious traditions. In the Abrahamic religions, human beings are created in a state of servitude; to glorify, worship and manifest God’s greatness. However, the quintessential, underlying message which runs through all religions, is for human beings to come to know God. Each religion teaches us different ways how to reach the divine, but the goal is one: knowing our Lord. But to come to know God, we must first purify ourselves to reach the level of the “perfected human”. All the religious and spiritual traditions have a head figure – whether it be: Jesus, Buddha, Moses or Muhammad – who ultimately represent human perfection or is used as a role model. Continue reading
Babies and young children are naturally curious: if there is a loud sound, they will quickly look for the source of the sound and ask “what was that?” They are not routinised and everything is intense. This is why Aristotle said: “All men, by nature, desire to know.” As we grow up and become people “of” this world and not people “in” this world (note the difference), we become blinded, indoctrinated and attached to the world. We forget the world is transient, fleeting and, according to one saint, “You are nothing but a number of days, and whenever a day passes away, a part of you passes away.” Continue reading
What is love?
Love is one of those things that cannot really be defined. I’m sure most of us have experienced love in some way in our lives, whether it be for your: parents, girlfriend, boyfriend or even a pet. True, love can come in different forms and at different intensities. Sometimes we probably even confuse love with something else. But how do two people fall in love with each other? Continue reading
It is easy to say that Islam is a misunderstood religion, but the real problem lies in who interprets it. The Quran, the Muslim holy book, believed to be the word of God, and the Hadith, the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, are the two authoritative texts in Islam. However, the problem is this: language, by its nature, is open to interpretation and indeed is interpreted differently depending on the reader. The Quran, according to the late Gai Eaton, is like a mirror: one will interpret the book depending on one’s nature and personality.
In his must-read book Islam and the Destiny of Man (1994), Gai Eaton says: “If they are by nature superficial they will find it in [the Quran] only superficialities, and if profound, profundities in corresponding measures. If they come arrogantly, they will interpret certain verses as justification for their arrogance…” Likewise if people approach the Quran with no faith and little openness and discernment, it is likely they will leave the Quran just as they started.
Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists suggests that there is much good in religion and its principles can apply to everyone. de Botton, however, refuses to acknowledge the veracity of the metaphysical claims of religion.
But how is the intellectual mind suppose to interpret and grapple with the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad? What people tend to forget is that Islam labels itself as a religion for the whole of humankind – and if this is the case, it must appeal to everyone and speak to everyone, both educated and uneducated.
This is why the Prophet spoke to different people on different levels: to the bedouins, the Prophet often said simple things to appeal to their intellect, and to the highly intelligent, he taught them deeper, more profound things to appeal to their intellect.
According to Shaikh Abdul Hakim Murad (Tim Winter), “Britain’s most influential Muslim”, many of the utterances in the Islamic tradition are both “hyperbolic” and “allegorical”.
Gai Eaton adds: “For the Quran to contain more than a thimbleful of the message it must rely upon images, symbols and parables which open windows on to a vast landscape of meaning, but which are inevitably liable to misinterpretation.”
Metaphysical concepts such as heaven and hell are nothing like what we imagine them to be, nor are they anything like how they are described to us. Furthermore, the anthropomorphic and corporeal traditions in Islam, where God is described in human terms, as if He had a human body, are to be interpreted allegorically.
Hell is not so much a place of eternal barbarous torture, but according to Muslim American Intellectual, Hamza Yusuf, it’s a place of “divine alienation”.
Hell is a very human problem. It’s hard to fathom the idea that some people will be in hell for eternity. Gai Eaton has suggested that nobody will be in hell for eternity and cites a Prophetic tradition where the Prophet Muhammad reminds us that eventually God’s ‘hand’ will pull people out from hell – and His ‘hand’ is infinite so we can expect that everyone will be saved.
Martin Lings narrates a tradition about the inhabitants of hell, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, in his biography: Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources. The jist of the [long] hadith is that after the Prophets, Angels and believers have interceded for the people of hell, God, in his infinite mercy, will “take out from the fire those who did no good and will cast them into a river at the entrance of Paradise which is called the River of Life.” (1)
One of the most knowledgable scholars of our time, who emailed me in confidentiality said: “The doctrine of infernal felicity [the idea that the flames of hell will eventually become a source of pleasure] indicates that those who remain in Hell after the Prophetic Intercession either have their punishment remitted or enter Paradise. And the scholars agree that the Prophetic Intercession will embrace every sinner.“
The only sin which is deemed as “unforgivable” if a person dies without repenting for it, is shirk, associating partners with God. Islam, by its nature, is an iconoclastic faith – it breaks both the outward idols as well as the inward idols. Islam’s aim is not just to stop people from prostrating to man-made idols, but is to stop us from worshipping ourselves. Our egos and desires need to either be annihilated or harmonised so that they are in conformity with the divine Order.
One of the criticisms of religious people is that they only do good because they expect reward and only avoid sin because they expect punishment. Human beings are often emotionally driven – and reward and punishment are emotional drives which make us incline towards that which is good.
Islam also shares many similarities with the Aristotelian philosophy – Aristotle once said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” The purpose of doing good and avoiding evil in Islam is for it to become habitual and natural to us; we should reach a level where our heart becomes saturated by goodness and only good emanates from us. This is known as Ihsan.
Hamza Yusuf reports a saying in Islamic thought: “Amongst the people and their purposes there are two stations: the purpose of common people is to gain rewards…but the end or purpose for the people of distinction is nearness and presence, to feel near to God and feel his Presence.”
So, we must now ask: What is Islam? In Islam and the Destiny of Man it says: “…Islam presents itself as the synthesis of all that came before. The final brick has been put in the great edifice of the divine Revelation, and for this very reason, the Muslim must expect his truth to be confirmed in other religions.” In other words, it is the completion of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity.
The world or the dunya is viewed as something which veils the Divine from us. And this veil is harder to penetrate when one is in a state of disbelief or kufr. Linguistically, kufr means to “cover up” so what many disbelievers do is cover up the Truth and, in turn, justify it to themselves. There are some who incessantly ridicule or attack religion and/or those with a belief in God, perhaps so that they feel better about their disbelief. Others, however, have valid reasons why they disbelieve. Perhaps they can’t explain the problem of evil, or maybe they have only looked into one religion and have painted all the others with the same brush or it could be that they have never been properly introduced to the esoteric dimension of religion. The veil, which hides the Divine, is harder to penetrate when one is in a state of kufr but easier to see through when one has faith or Iman, as one’s heart has greater spiritual insight.
One of the most important things Gai Eaton says in the book is: “Muslims are under an obligation to deepen and develop the intellectual bases of their faith and have no excuse for relying on unthinking obedience and emotional fervor to protect it against the searching questions of our time.”
Muslims need to put to aside their sanctimonious claims; we are all equal. Ali (R.A.) the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad said: “You are either my brother [or sister] in faith or my equal in humanity.”
How and why some people believe and others don’t does not always make sense to us, but it shouldn’t be our concern – the final judgement lies with God.
“Re-define Islam but do not de-refine it,” Abdul Hakim Murad.
1) Martin Lings, Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources, page 94.
New research suggests that gamification – applying game designs like “levelling up” and “leader boards” to non-game contexts to encourage learning and desired behaviours – is slowly taking over our lives. Analysts believe gamification will become an integral part of society by 2020, according to Pew Research. Call of Duty, Angry Birds and Blackberry Messenger all bring to mind people hooked to their games consoles or mobile phones in a state of fixation. However, is gaming the right way to encourage the pursuit of learning, solving problems and performing chores one wouldn’t ordinarily do, such as completing surveys and filling out forms? Continue reading
Prayer is often performed in a purely ritualistic and robotic way, this isn’t how it should be.
Timothy Winter, Islamic scholar and academic has described the prayer as having three levels: 1) being a form of worship for beginners 2) a form of purification for the wayfarers and 3) communion with the Divine for the saints. Continue reading
With reports of Syrian soldiers burying a man alive
People are calling for western military intervention to arrive
What’s happening there is nothing less than a bloodbath
This is the story of a girl, the last in the military’s path Continue reading
Our world is more open than ever: Wikileaks has made government decisions more open; globalisation has made the world more interconnected; the pornographic industry has opened sex up to everybody; and we continue to strip away the amount of clothes we wear by the decade. How we behave on Twitter is a result of this increasing openness.
We open up psychologically on Twitter, often revealing — consciously or not — our most intimate and innermost feelings. In the same way that our society is becoming more open, we, as individuals, are becoming more open. Nothing testifies to this more that Twitter.
Previously, we would have called or texted our friends to express what we feel. Now, we have millions of ‘friends’ who will listen to us.
We Tweet things like “I am bored” as if people care. But we know that people don’t care, neither do we expect people to care. We Tweet mundane and trivial things like that, not because we want people to reply saying “me too” or “are you?”, but because we can.
We are free to do that. There is nobody telling us what we can or can’t Tweet. In the name of civil liberties we — in the West at least — have an immense amount of freedom.
We like to tell people what we are thinking, it’s part of being human. If we think of a great idea or think of something new, we don’t just keep it to ourselves, we share it with others. Likewise, we like to tell people what we are thinking on Twitter, even if it isn’t particularly great or new – human beings are social creatures.
An open society is both good and bad. It is good because we can find out when things go wrong more easily; bad because too much freedom and openness can lead to perversity, lewdness and widespread immorality.
Twitter can be fantastic, how it has been utilised during the Arab revolutions is an example. The amount of information we can acquire just by scrolling through people’s Tweets is also quite staggering. It is also a excellent way to keep up with the news.
However, after a certain amount of time, we start to build up a profile of who we think people are by the way we see them Tweet. We are judgemental by nature; and depending on what we see someone Tweet, we begin to build up an image of who we think that person is. When we talk to people on the phone or online, we often imagine what this person looks like, but, in reality, this person may look completely different to what we imagined.
In the same way, when we build up an image or a profile of what we presume someone to be like by observing their Tweets, this may or may not not conform with who they really are.
But this raises the following questions: does Twitter reveal the ‘real’ us? Does it reveal another aspect of us? Or does it make us behave in a way that is actually not us?
We often can’t properly articulate what we are thinking on Twitter so we may come across as pretentious, arrogant or ill-informed. But, interestingly, depending on who is reading the Tweet, it may interpreted in different ways. This is because we all bring our different experiences and attitudes to life, so we are bound to interpret things in a different way to each other. If someone Tweets: I want to beat up my teacher – one person might it funny, another might find it rude and insensitive.
We often hear people say: Twitter isn’t real – a reference to it being in a cyberworld. But perhaps it is more real than what we refer to as ‘real life’, i.e. out on the street. When we are interacting with people in person, we have fears, anxieties and worry about what people think of us, so we act according to social norms. However, on Twitter, we often act completely differently, not in accordance with social norms but in accordance with what we are feeling at the precise moment – and we sometimes get in trouble for it. Diane Abbott would never dare say “White people love to play divide and rule” in the presence of physical people, but for some reason, she felt comfortable enough saying it on Twitter. Reality, therefore is subjective.
Philosopher Roger Scruton argues in his new book The Face of God: The Gifford Lectuers, that “when we hunt only for the cause and never for the reason of things, God disappears from the world” (1). And it’s true: if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will live in a Godless world and, as a result, everything becomes a proof that God doesn’t exist. A believer in God, however, lives in a world where God is omnipresent, and therefore everything becomes a proof for God. This is one of the fundamental reasons why believers and atheists are so diametrically opposed in their worldview.
Believers will often point to the seemingly “miraculous” nature of the universe and its uniformity. The New Scientist has described the universe as “unfathomably uniform”, however, atheists will point to certain aberrations in the universe like the inherent cosmic chaos and killer asteroids, which make it seem as if there is not an all-wise Creator behind this all. This is why scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, an agnostic, once reportedly said: “When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.”
The famous Muslim poet and sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi, once told a parable of an ant creeping along a carpet and complains to God, asking him “what is this, these bumps, and strange colours, and patterns, this must have been created just as a meaningless obstacle course, what a futile thing to have made.” However, as Cambridge academic Timothy Winter says: “But of course the carpet maker, looking at it from above, can see the patterns and the purpose of it, and can see that the whole thing is perfect and is good. And God is often like that. We often can’t make sense of the misfortunes because we are two dimensional, we are at ground level, we can’t see what it all means.”
There is a saying in the Islamic tradition that is believed to be God’s words, it says that “I am what my servant thinks of me”. This statement can be understood on many levels but what we can infer from this, is that if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will use the “aberrations” in our universe as further “proof” for the non-existence of God.
The discourse between theists and atheists has been skewed for too long. We vociferously debate with each other not to understand each other, or to come to a mutual understanding, but to attempt to prove each other wrong. Consequently, when we argue, our minds become preoccupied with trying to think of a counter response to what has just been propounded during the debate, instead of rationalising what the other has said.
While theists and atheists can both be as closed-minded as each other, both constantly looking for proofs to further their belief or disbelief, we must understand the plurality of life. There isn’t just one way of understanding things, there are many. There is a reason why we are all different; it is because life can, and should, be approached in many different ways. One of the fundamental misunderstandings of many atheists is that they forget religion has as its purpose to serve the whole of humanity. If this is the case, religion has to serve all the uneducated and stupid people in the world, which is, unfortunately, a large percentage of humanity. This is why, on the surface, religion may seem simple for simple people, when, in fact, it can be understood on many levels; the job of the intellectual should be to discern the profundity of divine revelation and explore the deeper, esoteric meanings.
When we are pushed to our extremes something strange often emanates from within us. Sometimes, when our life is in danger, we call on God. Interestingly, Oxford academic, Justin Barrett, says that research over the past ten years suggests that children are born with an innate disposition to believe in God. However, when we force ourselves to certain extremes, we often go mad, literally. Philosophers of the past have entered into a state of depression or madness because they try to push their mind to an extent that is not possible. Likewise, mathematicians have gone insane trying to understand the concept of infinity. We push ourselves to these extremes for no other reason but to find meaning. Meaning, however, can only be found within the depths of our innermost being, according to Rumi. He once said: “ The universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”
What we are often guilty of doing is trying to fill the void in our lives – a void that occurs due to our inability or unwillingness to find meaning – with something physical. But how can we fill something immaterial with something material? We must recognise that the materialistic idea of consciousness is probably not the correct way to understand who we are. Things don’t always happen purely on the psychological level, they happen on the spiritual level, too. We all know that with every second that passes by, we edge closer and closer to our departure from this world, essentially, we are dying with time.
While we all agree that we must die, we differ on the concept of death. Some of us believe death is just the beginning of eternity, either in the divine Presence or in divine alienation; others believe that death is the end and there is nothing else. Leo Tolstoy once said: “Life is a dream, death is wakening.” While this may or may not be true, we only have limited time to search for any sort of transcendent, ultimate meaning. Journalist Matthew Parris poignantly said in an article in The Spectator that: “If I seriously suspected a faith might be true, I would devote my life to finding out.”
Our existential search for meaning needs satisfying and our perennial search for God will never end. Time is running out, hurry.
1) Into the void, Richard Holloway, page 43, New Statesman, 2 April 2012
I know it was only yesterday that I wrote to you but I’m really struggling with this addiction. I promised myself this morning that I wouldn’t do it again. I couldn’t help myself. FFS. Today will be the last day, I promise.
Guess who I saw today outside my bedroom window this afternoon? Jack. Yeah, Jack Mitchell. I felt like jumping out my window and fu**ing him up. The pain and torment he put me through as a child was unbearable. I still remember coming home from school and crying. My mum could hardly console me, I mean, how could she? I was suicidal. Bloody bully. I should have killed him and ended the bullying once and for all. Yeah, that’s right – in the same way he mentally tortured me, I should have physically tortured him: cut him into little pieces, like him cut me up inside.
Oh, guess what? It’s been one year today since I cut my contract with them. I should bloody expose them for what they do. When the intelligence service first approached me, I was probably the biggest, baddest troll on the Internet, baby. I could go two whole days without sleep, just commenting: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, but my favourite was The Guardian. I use to comment on the odd article on Islam, but they told me I had to search and wait for anything on Islam to come out and comment on it. While I was at it, I thought I would have a quick bash at anything that came out about Christianity. Those were the good old days, I caused so much mischief, friction and arguments between all these stupid, religious people. I mean, if these organised religions were true, why are their followers so easily wound up by what I say? These religious people are hypocrites. They’re suppose to be all holy, yet they come at me and start swearing and come down to the same level that I went. Ha, idiots.
But like I was saying, I need to stop all this. I need to get myself a job, seriously. Living off my mum isn’t good. I should become a columnist, actually. Why don’t The Guardian hire me? I always see all these articles and I’m thinking, these columnists don’t even know what they are talking about. I’m much better than them. I bet I’ve read more books than any of them – my vocabulary is insane. It’s probably better than Will Self’s. If I did get hired by The Guardian I reckon my friend would be jealous of me. Gareth, or should I say FreeThinker1, would probably troll on me!
Okay, tomorrow is a new day. No more commenting. I’m going to go out into this cold, cruel and callous world, a world where there is no love. Perhaps, I’ll find love…
This blog should not be read on face value, look at the italicised words to comprehend the inner meanings.
Human beings, by their nature, are extreme. Religion merely redirects this extremeness into the form of worship. Some people, for example, will follow their religion to the dot – they have a literal interpretation and if someone tells them anything otherwise, they will reject it. Those who are extreme in their religious practises, would arguably be extreme in other ways if they weren’t controlled by their religion. Instead of doing a lot of worship, they would perhaps feel a greater inclination to do that which is bad: maybe become druggies, drunkards, incessant fornicators or whatever. Religion therefore acts as a mechanism to keep a human being under control.
The atheist, on the other hand, will often exert them extremeness by ridiculing those who believe in a Divine entity or a follow religion. The atheist only has their own moral compass to judge right from wrong – but often, they will do good. Many atheists are more ethical than the religious, they are also sometimes more “spiritual” than the religious, but at the very tip of their consciousness, they haven’t realised that they are indeed believers in the ultimate Reality, too – presuming that there is one.
An atheist just said to me: “[Religion] are like bad low-budget movies that demand criticism and ridicule regardless if people get offended.” This is extremism.
What many of us fail to do in our age is delve deep into the intellectual and esoteric meanings of religion. We treat science and philosophy as pursuits of rigorous study, but religion as something simple for simple people. We shouldn’t deny something’s veracity simply because, on the surface, it may appear simple or “ridiculous”.
Religion is therefore a mechanism to rewire one’s personality from one which is purely instinctual, animalistic and profane, into one where we act from our innermost being which is pure and transcendent. Religion forces us to act out certain rituals, and be kind to one another – and threatens us with punishment if we don’t – so that it becomes normal to us. We, eventually, no longer have to be told to do something, it emanates from within us naturally.
Man is born free, and everywhere he is in shackles. ~ Rousseau
Can we decide who are parents are? No. Can we decide what we look like when we are born? No. Can we decide which country we are born into? No. Can we even decide what personality traits we inherit upon birth? No. It seems, then, that a large part of our existence is already predetermined. If this is the case, how much free will do we have, if any at all?
Sam Harris, American author and Neuroscientist plans to release his new book Free Will in May – indicating the topic is still as pertinent as ever, and remains a issue of profound ambiguity. In the book Harris argues free will is an “illusion” and we have known this for about a “century” (1).
Harris’ conclusion is hubristic – particularly because our knowledge of the brain is limited, so limited, in fact, that Neuroscientist Lawrence Parsons of the University of Sheffield believes we are 300-500 years away from understanding the brain and all its complexities. Furthermore, our understanding of what human consciousness is the subject of conjecture and speculation. Philosopher Colin McGinn believes “the more we know of the brain, the less it looks like a device for creating consciousness: it’s just a big collection of biological cells and a blur of electrical activity – all machine and no ghost” (2).
So here we are: we have limited knowledge of the brain and we don’t have a clue what consciousness is, yet we want to say that free will is, factually speaking, an “illusion”? Now, while it is possible that free will is an illusion and all our actions are predetermined by prior causes of which we have no control over, we need to be careful of labeling something as “fact”.
The mention of the body/soul dichotomy may seem fictitious to some – but only to the narrow minded. Once again we need to be careful: to concretely say we do not have a soul is a theoretical fallacy; ‘we have no proof for the soul’, is more sensible. Science, however, will never be able to penetrate the world of the unseen or the world of metaphysics, simply because it is not interested in it. For those that rely purely on scientific observation, it is only the physical, tangible world that can empirically experienced, therefore, if anything else exists, it is out of science’s domain and has no relevance to us.
The existence of the soul should therefore remain open. If the soul does exist, however, we can posit that free will exists, too. Why, you may ask? If one believes the soul and the brain interact to form intentions – and that intentionality derives from the soul – our brain is therefore at the behest of our soul. Without the soul, the brain – it could be argued – cannot function properly.
Scientists have been studying intentionality rigorously for the past ten years, but there is still no definitive answer in relation to how intentionality is formed. Clearly, when analyzing the brain, consciousness and intentionality, there seems to be a missing component. Science has shown us that decisions can be predicted between 300 milliseconds – 10 seconds before we are even aware of them. But if the origin of our actions come from the soul, this would go some way to explaining this phenomenon.
However, because the soul and the brain must interact for free will to exist – when we suffer from mental illness, or when we take drugs which alter our biological chemistry – the link between the material and the immaterial becomes severed, and the brain then begins to function by itself. This is why in most religions, the mentally unwell or those who are not consciously aware of what they are doing are excused of Divine accountability, as so long as they are in that state.
If we don’t have any free will – as Harris suggests, or we have limited free will, as Timothy Winters suggests – can we enhance the amount of free will we possess, or even, seemingly paradoxically, “activate” our free will?
Winter says: “At the moment we authentically rise above our genetic programming and education and take a moral decision, we are stepping outside of the mechanics of the universe. We don’t create our own actions, there is only one Creator, but in an instantaneous, miraculous fraction of a second, we can acquire actions and this is of the mystery of the Ruh [soul].”
If we are slaves to our previous experiences, education and genetic programming, we cannot step outside “the mechanics of the universe” but if we transcend everything apart from what we know to be innately good or bad [something we all have within us], we then make a moral choice for ourselves, and activate our free will.
If we do, therefore, have free will, it can be enhanced through the pursuit of transcending our ego, our doubts, fears and inhibitions, and, in turn, by activating a component within our consciousness that allows us to tap into that which is innate within us. That which is innate with in us – it could be argued – is the soul, the component in us that acquires actions from the Creator. Therefore there is not just a body/soul dichotomy at work – there is a trilateral harmony between: the Creator, the acquirer of actions (the soul) and the disposer of these actions (the brain).
McGinn says we have more ignorance than knowledge; so the worst thing we can do is coalesce our ignorance with arrogance. Let’s leave the options open and not be one-dimensional creatures. The truth is there to be discerned but we must first accept that there is more than one way of arriving at it.
“Those who play chess are constrained by the predetermined limits decreed by the game’s inventor. And, although the player of chess is in complete subordination to the originator’s decreed limitations, the player’s own merit and effort or neglect and lassitude will determine whether he wins or loses the game of chess..ponder this well, for chess is an edifying metaphor and a sagely invention. (3)”
1) The free will delusion, page 46 New Statesman, 19 December 2011
2) All machine and no ghost? page 43, New Statesman 20 February 2012
Although my life is probably only half way through its course, the remaining chapters don’t particularly interest me. My soul yearns to return to its Author, where the book of life shall be explained and I will exist in a state of plenitude, tranquility and happiness. However, I have no say over how much time my Author has allotted me; but I must continue to play my part as the protagonist in this sorrowful story.
As I entered this realm and began playing out my character, I was still fresh from the divine Presence. But one loses the affinity with his or her Author upon getting too caught up in one’s own story.
My book, however, is a microcosm in the grand book of life, amounting to nothing more than a mere sentence. How I wish I could comprehend my own book let alone the grand book of life. The characters that I began with in my life are slowly disappearing, and returning to the Author who removed them from both my book as well as theirs. And with every day that passes, another page is turned and the end of the book gets closer and closer.
While it seems that my father’s book was not yet complete – dying only at 47 – every book has an end and every character finishes his or her story – no matter what age they depart.
Suicide is when one rips out the remaining pages of the book and, with it, rip themselves out – which is, of course, still part of the storyline. We cannot always understand why the Author, in His divine Imagination writes what He does, but we must accept it and upon returning to Him, all shall be revealed.
Life is like a game of chess and we, as an individual piece on the board, are free, in a limited sense. We must obey the rules set by the Creator of the game and we cannot transgress the limits set by the Creator – all our moves are therefore completely free yet completely determined. This is the paradox of our existence.
Sooner or later, we will be knocked off the board – sometimes we will know it is coming and other times we won’t. We will return with the other pieces with whom we started with who were on our side: our friends, our family. We will not return to the board: it was just a short-lived experience to see how we, in our limited movement, could survive in the game of games.
Be prepared to be knocked off the board at any time; we will return to the Creator of the game and the Author of our stories. From Him do we originate and to Him shall we ultimately return.
Whitney’s Houston’s publicist, Kristen Foster, has announced the death of the “Queen of Pop”. In 2009, the “King of Pop”, Michael Jackson, died in mysterious circumstances after many years of trouble, accusations and controversy. Houston, too, was not shy of controversy: in her later years, she was believed to be on drugs and, in 2006, separated from her husband Bobby Brown, after years of problems and alleged domestic abuse.
Houston won more music awards than any other female recording history in history, she won six grammy awards and is one the best selling singers of all time.
Like many other world famous artists, Houston was accused of drug abuse. Etta James, who died last month, was treated in the ’70s for her misuse of drugs; MJ, Amy Winehouse, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix were all known for their drug use, too. The question that arises is: why do the most famous musicians in the world feel the need to resort to drugs? They have everything, so why do they feel the urge to escape the world of reality and use intoxicants? Perhaps purely for fun? But aren’t they having enough “fun” as it is in their “luxury” lifestyles?
A person who is truly happy, or who has inner peace, will not resort to drugs. Drugs are used to fill a void, a void created because of inner disquiet. George Green, who toured the world with the likes of Kanye West, Jay Z and Snoop Dogg, recently left the music scene and has talked about how “money, women and materialism” didn’t bring him happiness – neither did he think those whom he toured with were happy either – there remains a void. There is no lasting satisfaction from material pleasures, he says, the lifestyle many musicians lead does not bringing lasting fulfilment.
Houston, like MJ, were two of the greatest entertainers of this age. However, there has to be a reason why so many celebrities lives are shrouded in complication and vicissitudes. R.I.P Whitney Houston, but let’s not forget those in Syria right now who are being slaughtered. No life is more precious than any other.
Almost one week after my dad’s death I pour out my thoughts.
A series of strange events
There were a series of strange things that happened before my dad’s death…
My mother and I had been staying at the hospital every night with my dad before his death – knowing he had very little time left in this world. In the early hours of the morning, before my dad’s final breath, he woke up due to breathing difficulties and called my mum over, and said to her, “stay with me.” Something he had never said before…
About 45 minutes before my dad took his final breath, my aunty – who was sleeping at my house – woke up with a panic attack and texted me to find out how my dad was. Then, minutes later, I got a phone call from my uncle – who lives in Cambridge – asking me how my dad was and whether he had prayed the morning prayer, Fajr. I told him he hadn’t, so I — feeling deep consternation because I wanted to let my dad sleep — woke him up ( sleep that he had been missing out on for weeks because of his illness). I performed wudhu on him, the washing of the body with water, and told him to pray and then go back to sleep. He did this, albeit lying down in his bed due his illness. At 8am, 14 minutes before my dad’s death, my cousin, who was sleeping at his home, suddenly woke up, for no particular reason…
My dad’s eldest brother, my uncle, then turned up at the hospital and began to play the recitation of the Quran on his phone so that my dad could listen to it – subconsciously, perhaps. The chapter of the Quran was Yaseen, and, interestingly, the final verse of this chapter is: “So Glorified is He and Exalted above all that they associate with Him, and in Whose Hands is the dominion of all things, and to Him you shall be returned.” Once the recitation of Yaseen had finished, my uncle then began playing it again. For some reason, and I’m not sure why, my eyes began to water. Seconds later, my uncle began shouting and panicking – my mum and I got out of our beds and ran to my dad’s bed and, seconds later, saw my dad take his final breath…
My dad had been told a couple of weeks before his death that he had “perhaps days, weeks or months left.”He accepted the news and, from that day until his death, showed an immense amount of patience, despite suffering a lot because of his cancer.
Cancer, food, suffering & purification
As most of us know, cancer has become so common that statistics tell us that one in every three of us will get the disease. In a nutshell: cancer occurs when mutant cells in the body begin multiplying more rapidly than the occurrence of new, healthy cells . The causes of cancer are not straightforward but, interestingly, the disease has become more common over the past few decades – but why is this? It doesn’t take a Rocket Scientist to figure out that as man-made technology is advancing at a rapid rate; as food is becoming less organic and is being filled with more additives, and as obesity is soaring – cancer is obviously going to spread. Why would we get cancer for no reason? Our bodies are, generally speaking, designed well and are made to withstand illness. There must be something wrong with the way we are living. Although my dad didn’t eat burgers and chips every day and didn’t drink alcohol, he wasn’t as healthy as he should have been, or, as healthy as my mum has always been. I therefore thought my dad’s cancer was due to his diet…
However, there are people who are much more unhealthy than my dad was, so why did he develop cancer so young? Perhaps it wasn’t his diet, maybe it was just his destiny. Perhaps it was written that my dad would die aged 47. Considering the average age of death in this country is around 80, my dad was taken away very early…
My dad suffered a lot because of his illness, the details of which aren’t important. What is important is the belief within the Islamic tradition that with every affliction comes ease and purification. For every second that my dad suffered, sins were expiated and he was purified. God choses to purify some in this life; to save them from being purified in the next life – a much more difficult form of purification, Hell…
However, what gets me is this: let’s say, for example, my dad’s disease was self-induced, through eating unhealthily, was the cancer a punishment or a purification and blessing? Or perhaps both? The physical body was given to us as an Amanah, a trust, so that we would look after it and use it as an instrument to carry out the will of the soul. If, however, we abuse it, through eating and drinking unhealthily, then, naturally, not only are we going to get ill, but we will earn God’s displeasure. The Quran says: Eat of the good and wholesome things that We have provided for your sustenance, but indulge in no excess therein.” (20:81)
Cancer can also run in the family, so one might be more susceptible to it if there are hereditary traits of it within our DNA. People with blood type A, for example, are more susceptible to more forms of cancer than those with blood type O.
A couple of hours before the funeral, an old man came to my house – he is a devout Muslim and goes to the local Mosque that I attend. He had heard the news and he asked me: “Was your dad at the mosque last night?” I said: “No, he was at the hospital.” He said: “I saw your dad behind me just as I was finishing my prayer and, when I turned round to greet him, he had gone.”
Then, a couple of days after my dad’s funeral, I was told by my dad’s friend, Naz [not his real name] that he had a dream about my dad. In this dream my dad spoke to Naz and said to him: “tell my family that I am okay”…
My mother and I are naturally strong people. Furthermore, I believe that everything is in God’s hands – this life is just a short, transient, sojourn that we must undertake to reach the next life. What’s reassuring for my mother and I is the way in which my dad died. According to an Islamic scholar who came to our house following my dad’s death, there are some signs that indicate whether one dies as a Shaheed, a martyr. One of the indicators is that the main cause of death is a stomach illness – my dad’s cancer began in the stomach area. Also, dying on a Friday, Jummah, the holy day for a Muslim is a good sign – my dad died on a Friday; finding out one will die soon – my dad found out he didn’t have long to live and, as a consequence, did loads of charitable work; being able to sort out worldly issues, especially money-related – my dad did this; feeling contrition and repenting before one dies – my dad did this; feeling hot before one dies – my dad complained that he felt very hot the night he died, despite his body being cold; and dying a peaceful death – my dad died in his sleep – these are all supposedly good signs. At the funeral, which took place only about five hours after my dad was pronounced dead, there were hundreds of people, another good sign. It also shows my dad was liked by a lot of people…
Coming to terms with the death of a loved one
Death is a strange thing. We have all experienced a death of a loved one, but the human being was created in such a way that, more often than not, we get over the death because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to continue functioning – we would be constantly depressed. Death acts as a reminder that we aren’t going to be here forever -and if the death of a loved one doesn’t wake us up from our heedlessness, nothing will…
Whenever I prayed for my dad, I didn’t pray for God to preserve and extend his life, I prayed that God forgave him, saved him from His punishment and granted him Paradise, how long we live isn’t important. The death of a loved one serves as a reminder about the ephemerality of this life; life is short, too short…
Death has no age, it overtakes us before we are ready for it, everything comes to an end…apart from one’s deeds; these remain with us forever. We need to wake up before we are woken up by The One, The Reality, The Evident and questioned about why we wasted our life… Questioned about why we refused to listen to our innate nature, our intuition, and why we used science, our intellect and our pride to deny, reject and forget Him. Life consists of two basic precepts: remembering and accepting. That is all.
I love you, dad. I will see you again, iA.
Inna lillahi wa inna illahi raajeeon (From God, Allah, we come and to Him we shall return).