Wednesday, 18 August 2010

LIVING Islam: Some Moderation Please

I strongly urge readers to look beyond the surface and beyond any notion of "personal attacks", that you take the message and see the meaning behind what I'm trying to say.

My late maternal Grandmother’s first cousins are Arab. When we were younger, we used to joke and say that they’re very very Arab, because they are direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) and can trace their lineage right back to him (lucky cows). But they will be the first to tell you that this fact does not make them better than the rest of humanity and that they hold no favours with The Almighty. They believe that character is a very important part of who you are as a Muslim and that we will also be judged by the kind of people we chose to be here on earth.

I believe that if someone wants to follow in the Prophet’s SAW’s footsteps and live by his example, then they should by all means go ahead and do so in peace, as long as they are aware of the reasons behind what they’re doing and are not following blindly. Every Hadith has a conflicting Hadith because each dealt with different situations in different contexts. For some reason, people don’t seem to understand that we do not live in the year 632AD in the middle of the desert… and yes, while many adhere to the Sunnah out of respect and reverence, they may not all apply in our contemporary context.

For instance, there is a Hadith that states that any man wearing his pants below his ankles, i.e. dragging on the floor, has pride and Allah SWT dislikes those with pride… and I can hear remnants of past conversations, where people were dooming, and cursing and condemning everyone who’s trousers weren’t folded up above their ankles.

Now firstly, the Prophet (SAW) mentioned that in a specific context, which at that time concerned the wealthy and affluent people of Arabia who wore their robes down to the ground as a sign of status, arrogance and pride. In my opinion, that rule would not apply today, for the simple reason that EVERYONE wears their pants/trousers down below their ankles, not only the rich and affluent. But I still believe that if a man wants to wear his pants that way, then he should go ahead and do so freely, knowing why he’s doing it. I do not however, agree with those who go around condemning people to hell for not adhering to this.

Disturbingly however, I find that the situation has actually reversed. I’ve seen men with their pant’s-slash-trousers rolled up mid-calf, walking about and looking down on others who don’t follow suit and they judge them arrogantly. I've mentioned previously that my late paternal Grandfather was a pious, passive man and an Imam. He passed away in Sujud/Sajdah (Prostration) on the holiest day of the week, while leading the congregation, something that is regarded as an honour in Islam. Thing is, he never wore his pants rolled up above his ankles and he wore a suit half the time. So I don't see how he could have been condemned to hell for wearing his pants to the floor, when The Almighty chose to take him in the most blessed of ways. 

The same goes for the Niqaab/Burqa (veil across the face). I personally don’t believe in it and think that it’s purely cultural, mostly because the Prophet SAW never explicitly commanded the women of Arabia to cover their faces. But I still believe that people should be given the right to wear it if they like, regardless...

I see people everywhere, making life difficult for themselves… threatening each other with eternal damnation. And it’s amazing how many people can quote Hadith or the Qur’an out of context because they heard it from this guy, or that Moulana. Some are so fanatic about their leaders in their societies, that no one stops to question them. An example would be the recent World Cup debate where a certain Islamic radio station just fell short of calling the WC Haraam, but guess who was at the Opening Ceremony?

Everything these so-called Islamic authorities say or do is not Gospel. Try using your own brain, or if in a bind, make like Who wants to be a Millionaire? and phone a friend. People tend to idolize these public figures of Islam, then want to get upset when their kids idolize Hollywood or Bollywood stars… its all the same thing – different genre.

I’ve come to understand that people will do all these weird crazy things, in the belief that it will bring them closer to God (and who knows, maybe it does). Like my grand-uncle for example. He refuses to go anywhere overseas except to Makkah or Medinah. I’ve tried convincing to come with me to London and almost booked a ticket, but he refused making all sorts of excuses. Then I suggested he go to Palestine or Jordan… anywhere… and he also declined. Then one day, I told him that I understand that he has a solid bond with these places and that they reinforce his beliefs and feed him spiritually, but that doesn’t mean he can’t go anywhere else. He will not betray God if, for instance, he wanted to go to Jerusalem. And having been to Arabia several times, he’s not doing God any favours by not going anywhere else. We are, after all, supposed to seek knowledge “from the cradle to the grave” and how will he see beyond those horizons if he never goes anywhere else?!

I find similar patterns of behavior in others… it’s like the need to move to fanatical extremes is motivated by their belief that it will bring them closer to Allah SWT. And this is how terrorists think… they don’t see murder, they see a cause that they justified in the name of God.

I don’t see this fanatical, dogmatic approach to Islam as something that brings us closer to The Almighty, instead it takes us further away from Him. I’ve heard of a father who left his sick wife and newborn baby to go out in Jamaat for 4 months… seeking God. Little did he realize that he would have more than doubled any reward he would have attained on his path if he stayed at home and took care of his family.

In addition, I find that for every one person this autocratic system of belief attracts, it repels at least 10. I’ve mentioned before, with one of the World Cup posts, that as Muslims, we cannot isolate ourselves and make ourselves the "other" or a seperate part of a collective because we all co-exist simultaneously in One world and form some part of a collective conscious. This kind of approach is dangerous because it pushes people away, it divides and excludes, rather than accepts and includes – and it is potentially the worst thing we can suffer as Muslims under the banner of Islam. Everyone is so worried about their connection to divinity, that most have lost their humanity.

There are no compulsions in Islam other than the 5 basic tenets which are Tauhid (Belief in the One-ness of The Almighty or Monotheism), Fasting (If one is in good health and able to do so), Zakaat (Alms and charity if one can afford it), Hajj (Pilgrimage if one can afford it) and Fardh Salaah (Compulsory prayers 5 times a day). Everything else we do, EVERYTHING is for our own benefit. Most contemporary Muslims (especially here in SA) seem to think that if they adhere to these 5 tenets, it makes them good Muslims. I’m sorry to say but don’t think you’re doing God any favours. Your 5 tenets or Pillars of Islam is what we owe… it’s like our rent… rent money for oxygen. And whether or not people choose to follow them, that is between them and an Oft Forgiving and Merciful Almighty, it is none of our business.

The real good is NOT WHAT WE DO, it’s WHO WE ARE. It’s the kind of person you are… the kind, generous, helpful, compassionate soul… that’s what really counts.

There are some non-Muslims in my extended family that have better dispositions than most of the Muslims I’ve met, which I find appalling. My mother’s cousins’ father-in-law (my second cousins’ grandfather) is a great example. The man is Chinese and lives in Hong Kong, and has one of the most stellar character’s I have ever seen… wise, humble, pleasant, kind, gentle, calm and very quiet. He does not believe in gossip or talking unnecessarily. He is a monotheistic believer and when you look at him, you can see that this man is with God. His aura and being radiates light.

I don’t need to highlight the stereotypical example of the SA Indian Muslims that are punctual when it comes to Salaah and Hajj etc.,yet but they treat their staff and employees like Dog poo… often over-working and under-paying them, degrading, humiliating and verbally abusing them in front of others. I’ve never seen such atrocious behavior anywhere else in the world. Even those Chinese kids in those sweat shops that get $2 a day are treated better.

Everything we do outside of our compulsions, is for our own benefit and protection and we will reap the rewards as such. There is a reason behind every action that is recommended for us. Each sunnah and nafl salaah we make, every time we read Qur’an, every prayer we offer our Creator, it’s to protect us from calamities and adversity and to erase the sins that we accumulate knowingly and unknowingly. Women are supposed to dressed modestly and cover their hair, why? To protect them from the amorous advances of male Jinn (human men too, but mostly the Jinn because the Jinn generally possess by entering from the hair). We consume Halaal food to ensure our good health. We abstain from those things and substances that will bring us harm and make our lives difficult.

Our real acts of Ibaadat and Imaan are not the 5 obligatory tenets that we have carry out, but the little every-day mundane things in life. Every day that we take care of our families and spend time with them, every day that we go out to earn a livelihood, every day that we engage with our neighbours with gestures of goodwill, every day that we take care of the ill, every day that we choose to help those in need, every day that we impart our knowledge to benefit others… these are all forms of Worship. These are the ways that we LIVE Islam.

Ask any scholar with true knowledge on Islam, Doctors/ Professors/ Historians from Walter B. Denny (The University of Massachusetts), John Renard (St. Louis University), Michael Sells (Haverford College) to Taariq Ramadan, on the nature and character of the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) and they will all tell you the same thing. That he was a kind, reasonable man… that he never condemned or cursed people for not following him and prayed for them instead… he allowed every person to make their own decisions and respected their wishes. When one of his daughters approached him, wanting to marry a non-Muslim, he advised against it but asked her to think about it thoroughly and told her to make her own decision. When she decided to get married anyway, he respected her wishes. THAT was the kind of man that he was and THAT is the role model that every holier-than-thou should aspire to be.

Navigating through life, I’ve come to believe that when it comes to religion people are either inclined to move to the fanatical extreme or they reject it outright. I see myself as more in the middle and more spiritual that religious… spiritual because my connection with God is for Him alone, not to impress the masses and I’m an ardent believer in moderation. I discard the cultural projections and political agendas, dogmatic rigid approaches and negative stereotypes associated with Islam.

I’ve stated in the comments section on one of my earlier posts that an old, very pious, very wise Arab woman once told me that Islam by nature is not dogmatic, it is at its very core all about Moderation, governing the senses. Everything has a time and place. You can be sad, but don’t become too sad. You can have fun, but don’t over do it. As Muslims we are not even allowed to be isolated for too long, we should be engaging with people because if done so correctly, your mere presence is a form of Dawah. It’s all about Balance. She said that the best form of existence is in equilibrium, centering oneself, because that is where we are the strongest against Satan.

To me, Islam is beautiful and tranquil. It is perfect and flexible, so flexible that one can abstain from fasting if one is ill or a traveler, provided that the fast is repaid. Islam is simple, its people and their cultural hang-ups make it complicated. Like Muslim Musician Lupe Fiasco said very recently on his twitter account “Islam is PERFECT. Muslims are NOT. Nor are ANY humans or their ideas or institutions or politics. Perfection is a quality of God alone”.

I don’t see Islam as a religion as such, I see it as a way of life. And most times I think that if we stopped PRACTISING Islam and started LIVING Islam, then maybe this world would be a better place.

Please note that these are my views and opinions relating to certain aspects of Islam and the propagation of Islam in South Africa. I have visited a few of these concepts before and frankly I’m tired of sounding like a broken record, so this is the last time that I will visit these issues and address this subject on a public platform.


  1. The Majlis are sending their representatives over shortly.
    Please ensure your hijaab is Sanha approved.

    On a lighter note, I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments and opinion.
    Too many among us focus on the detail, forgetting the principle behind what Islam is all about.

    As a student travelling by bus I once came across a fanatic who I befriended with a view to trying to understand him better.
    One hot Friday afternoon, with the bus filled to capacity, a pregnant black lady boarded and headed toward the back where we were sitting. There was easily enough space for her between us, but he simply pretended like he never saw her and left his satchel on the seat.
    I offered her my seat which she graciously accepted, and when she disembarked few stops later, I asked him why he was such an ass.

    His response, and my recollection of it more than 15 years later, still infuriates me!
    He said she was an infidel, and he felt no pity on her as she was bringing another infidel into this world!

    The gall of those who deem themselves holier than the moderates has forever made me steer clear of their words, their preachings and their company.

  2. You're spot on about how critical it is to be of good character.

    I recall a hadith (roughly quoting here): about a person who has done so many 'religious' good deeds (e.g. fasting, salaah, etc) - yet he's mistreated other people a lot (via backbiting, etc). So on the Day of Judgement, he comes with all those deeds - but because he's mistreated others, those deeds go to them, as compensation for what he's done to them.

    And then when all his deeds are gone, if there are still people he's done wrong to, he starts taking their BAD deeds.

    And so -the lesson in that is that this religion is so much more than just rituals. I recall someone saying that, when it comes to Fiqh, most of it is about character and human interaction - not actual ritual practices. and that's because character is so important.

    That's not to say rituals are not important - they obviously are very important; but they're an obligation we have. ANd they're a means to an end - with the end being true piety and righteousness in God's eyes.

    I also hypothesize that the cause of much of the SA Indian Muslim community's dogmatic or ritualistic practice of Islam - especially in our previous generations (i.e. those in their 40s and older) is that, when they were growing up and learning Islam, they learnt it parrot-fashion. Do this, do that, do that.

    They didn't have the vast access to translations of the Arabic; and they didn't have the immense range of English-language books and materials that we have today - they stuff that allows us, the younger generation, to delve into Islam on a deeper level than just repeating certain actions ritualistically, devoid of understanding.

    So, i think some sympathy is due to those who haven't had the resources we have. they grew up in that system, and when you're old, it's harder to change your ways and your views.

  3. Kaloo – We will make dua that the Majlis get Hidayah :) I’m still trying to figure out what part of “Do Not Judge” do most Muslims not understand...

    Dreamlife – I agree fully that rituals are important. The old adage “filling your spiritual bank account” applies. Like I said, I see Salaah, Fasting etc as obligatory in that it’s what we “owe” Allah SWT. And it is these rituals that help keep us on the straight path. That’s not to say that people can solely rely on them in their definitions of what it means to be a good Muslim...
    And yes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks... it’s a bit crass but you get my point :)

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  5. For me, Islam by its very nature is moderate.
    As humans, we veer to the extreme.

    This was a wonderful post, which perfectly expressed many sentiments.

  6. i agree with you completely. I've been to a retreat with sister haifaa younis a month back. The topic was on Suratul Furqaan, but she had lessons on Tazqiyah and dealing with your Nafs as well. It's just changed everything for me.

  7. Great posts, Azra. All of these. Can't agree with you more.

  8. Ladies and Gents – Thanks for all your comments. Last night I came to the conclusion that sometimes it’s pointless talking to people who are not open to listen, or haven’t yet attained that understanding from The Almighty. Sometimes, the best ways to speak is through actions and I hope that I can evolve into LIVING Islam to a point where I don’t need words and just my presence or action is enough to inspire others towards Moderation. I hope the same for everyone too. Spread the message in your actions aimed at inspiring change, not dictating it ;)

  9. I guess as the years go by things will change,because our generation thinks along these lines,and all the old school behaviour will die down as well as their arrogant rude ways.

  10. Nadia - We can only hope and pray :)

  11. There is a quote in Islam that goes somewhat like this - truly blind are those who choose not to see and the deaf those who choose not to hear.

    You post hits the right stuff. I have seen so many Muslim men growing beards like a goat thinking they are pious when the prophet was a smart and well groomed man. And they always think buying long jeans and rolling up the ankles is a sign of piety.

  12. Mezba - Thats the problem I have with people who follow blindy... doing things just because they were told to, and dogmatically so. Then they're threatened into "believing" with eternal damnation. No wonder so many ignorant people think Islam is a cult.

  13. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it!
    Beautifully written :)
    Reminds me of a story of Shams Tabrezi. I'm lazy to type it out now tho ;)

  14. Saaleha - Wow, you have like 5 kids. Never thought you'd have time to read my novels ;) Glad you like it x :)