Our presence in the world is a continuous process of separation after unity. We begin with a unification of a sperm and an egg followed by breathing in of the soul. Then there is a separation of this soul from the mother through birth, which is indicated by the Arabic term nifas. Breastfeeding is a materialistic attempt to reestablish that connection. But alas, it is to no avail and the child eventually stops trying. Progress through developmental stages is a gradual process of separation from the parents until we become physically independent. We cried at the time of birth because we did not want to let go, and our parents, especially mothers, cry at the time when we leave for our first day of school because they do not want to let go.
We were created through separation as God tells us in the Quran, “It is He Who created you from a single soul and made from it its mate so that you may find tranquility in her.” [7:189] The Beloved ﷺ said, “The souls are conscripted legionnaires, the ones who recognize each other will be in harmony and those who do not will differ.” Before coming into this world we were together in the Atomic Realm in a state of peace. But we arrive here in a state of anxiety as scattered individuals. Our search for love in the modern world is confused with lust, which is a materialistic attempt to capture serenity when we reunite with our soul mates. Unless we first respond to the Divine call, anxiety will be our state of being and feeling completely at peace will remain elusive.
The Quran relates the story of the Prophet Ibrahim peace be upon him who sought certainty from His Lord about how He gives life back to the dead. God’s response to him was, “Did you not believe? He said: Yes, but that my heart may be at ease. He said: Then take four of the birds, then train them to follow you, then place on every mountain a part of them, then call them, they will come to you flying; and know that God is Mighty, Wise.” [2:60] Ahmad ibn ‘Ajeeba (1748-1809) may God sanctify his soul mentioned in his commentary on this verse that the birds were a peacock, a rooster, a crow, and a pigeon:
“Whoever wants for their soul to live the Eternal Life, and to move from the knowledge of certainty (‘ilm al-yaqeen) to the essence of certainty (‘ayn al-yaqeen), then his ego must die four deaths. First is death of love of worldly desires and adornments, which is the character of the peacock. Second is death of haughtiness and egotistical prowess, which is the character of the rooster. Third is death of sordidness, abjectness and vain hope, which is the character of the crow. Fourth is death of the quick following of whims, which is the character of the pigeon.”
The beginning of these four deaths is initiated by responding to the Divine Call. “Verily, man was created in a state of anxiety. When evil afflicts him he becomes greatly grieved. When good befalls him he becomes stingy. Except for those who pray. Those who are constant in their prayer.” [70:19-23] The Arabic word for prayer, salah, involves establishing a connection with God. It is not the physical acts that make a prayer valid. They are the necessary but insufficient means, not the end goal.
In the adhan, the public call to the five daily prayers, we hear the phrase “Come to Success” twice after the phrase calling us to “Come to Prayer” had occurred twice. Just as the cut up birds responded to Ibrahim peace be upon him and gathered their scattered parts, our response to the Divine Call is the gathering of our scattered parts across the mountains of Dunya so we can become whole again. It is the physical recognition of the poetic line uttered by Labeed ibn Rabee’a al-‘Āmiri - “Everything other than God is a falsehood.”
A quick scan of the daily news can give one a feeling of despair. It seems we are quickly descending into chaos, and no matter where one lives, it appears that political unrest and oppression is only a stone’s throw away. As the external struggle against oppression takes place, we must recognize that the rulers who get put over us are not there because of elections or foreign clandestine interventions. These are the material means by which they may come into power. However, they are ultimately only there by the will of God. “Say: O God, Master of the Dominion! You give dominion to whomsoever You please, and take it away from whomsoever You please. You exalt whomsoever You please, and debase whomsoever You please. In Your power is the good. Surely, You have power over all things.” [3:26]
While everyone is quick to blame the election system in the U.S., the voters, the Democratic Party, Russia, and everything else that can be thought of, the one fact most are unwilling to acknowledge about Trump is that he is a reflection of what seems like the majority of us value today. “Like so we put oppressors over each other on the account of they earned.” [6:129] We exalt money, fame, power, ostentation, self-interest, and narcissism. We support the ego and whims of the individual even if it comes at the cost of everyone else. We reward mediocrity and inflate status. A culture that gives medals and trophies to kids who come in last is one that will produce a Trump who buys a 6-foot-tall self-portrait with charity money.
The artificial division between the spiritual and the political is meant to only facilitate learning. But in action, the Quran teaches us they cannot be separated. When Prophet Shu’aib peace be upon him was sent to his people to warn them against cheating in their transactions and spreading mischief in the land their response to him was, “O Shu’aib! Does your prayer enjoin you that we should forsake what our fathers worshipped or that we should not do what we please with regard to our property?” [11:87] Commitment to Islam entails more than ritual actions. It is a conscious recognition of a responsibility to be witnesses for Truth. “And thus We have made you a middle nation that you may be the bearers of witness over people and that the Messenger may be a bearer of witness over you.” [2:143]
Political activism is a testing ground. “Moses said to his people: Rely upon God and be patient. Verily, the land is God’s; He grants it as inheritance to whomsoever He pleases from among His servants, and the end is for those who guard (against evil). They said: We have been persecuted before you came to us and after you came to us. He said: It may be that your Lord will destroy your enemy and make you rulers in the land, then He will see how you act.” [7:128-129] The goal is not to be in power, but to ensure that we prevent oppression. From an Islamic perspective, God will support a just disbeliever against an unjust Muslim.
One of the criticisms gaining traction from Muslim activists against religious leaders and scholars is about their lack of experience in activism, which in turn is used to tell them to “stay in their lane”. It is a warranted critique if what matters are the details. But this lack of on the ground engagement could be an advantage, as it allows an external observer a bird’s eye view. Though scholars may not be aware of the details, they can certainly discern the direction of a movement. Unlike technology, human beings do not progress. The same egos and ailments of the heart that afflicted past peoples are afflicting us today.
As an increasing number of Muslims engage in political activism it is essential that the Divine Call be answered first. Otherwise, instead of moving with the transcendent compass that will make one act in accordance with Islamic teachings and principles, incoherent materialistic ideologies will be adopted in its place. Without an objective measure of justice guided by the Just, whims and desires will rule, and oppression will continue. The rise of Trump and figures like him in America and around the world should have the same impact as looking in a mirror and seeing a problem on ones face. Breaking the mirror does not make the problem go away, and neither does changing it.
By Mohamed Ghilan , 29 Mar 2017