The Design of Principles

Bismihi Ta’ala

I’ve met my deadlines.  I’ve done the chores.  I’ve watched every movie clip on my hard drive.  I’ve read every random Facebook post (some of them twice).  I even joined and am bored of Twitter already.  There is no reason not to write anymore.

Sometimes, the urge to write is preceded by a debilitating fear that you will not be able to express what you want to.  I guess the best way to handle and overcome that fear is to realise that you may never be able to say something exactly the same way you wish you could, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say it at all.

When I first began this blog and in the years that followed, writing was never an issue.  I had so much to say and such definite opinions that it never occurred to me to stop and wonder whether people would agree with me or not.  Often when I have sat to write in recent months, my fingers have faltered over the keyboard because I keep stopping to wonder if what I am going to express needs to be expressed.  Will my words make the world a better place in any miniscule way?  What is the worth of my opinion?  Is writing a means of indulging my ego?  All of these questions leading to same overall query: What’s the point?

I wish I had an answer to that before I started writing this post.  Sadly, I don’t.  I’m writing because a) I know I have to write to overcome this block and b) There are too many words in my head to stay contained in there anymore.  However, at the back of the mind there is still a faint whisper. (“What good is this doing?”)

In some way, perhaps this quest for …purpose?…is connected to what I wanted to write about today.  I constantly wonder about my purpose for writing: whether I should or not, whether my words will do good or bad, but writing is only one small part of my life.  Similar questions run through almost every action I perform in every waking moment – or at least those I am aware enough to be conscious of.   The choice of whether to speak or keep silent, to contribute or hold back, to respond or ignore….these are decisions we make on a subconscious level.   But these are also decisions that take us down the Path of Life, we steer our existence in the direction of our choosing every single time we make a decision, no matter how small it may seem.  So shouldn’t we be more concerned about the source that determines our choices? What is it that feeds our subconscious with the data it needs?  What foundations or principles does it use when making split-second decisions?  How do we know we’re doing not just what will benefit us, but what is right?

As a Muslim, the factors that determine our behaviour, our character, our way of life is based solidly on our faith.  And our faith is in turn based on the guidelines set by God in His Holy Revelation and practically implemented by His Representatives on earth.  We try to live our lives according to the Qur’an and the Sunnah (traditions) of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) [i.e. the Holy Household].  Sounds simple, right?   Except, they lived in a different time, under different circumstances, surrounded by different characters.  It sometimes seems impossible to apply a rule from the 8th Century to a circumstance in the 22nd Century.  How can one bridge a gap that is so wide?  Civilizations have been born, elevated, destroyed and annihilated in the time that has passed in between.  The traditions speak of camels and battlefields, of swords and honour in combat; we live in a world of supersonic fighter jets and atomic bombs, of weapons of mass destruction and ‘collateral damage’ – how is the resemblance or comparison to be made?  How are lessons to be applied?

As a little sprout, I remember asking my Brother: How do I know what I’m doing is the right thing to do?  How do I make a decision when there is no clear black or white answer?  And how will I live with that decision if it’s the wrong one and worse, what if I never realise it was the wrong one to make…?  He told me – with the wisdom I have always relied on – that that’s part of the risk of living.  That you can’t ever know for sure what your decisions will lead to.  And then he added something that I’ve never forgotten.  He said that while we could never be perfect, we could live a better quality of life and make better decisions if we founded them on better principles.  “In order to learn how to behave in the right manner, to know what decision is the right one, to understand what it is that the Ahlul Bayt (pbut) would do in a given situation, you must learn to think like them.”  He explained that we have to study the lives of these amazing individuals, to read their words, to try to understand their perspective, to internalize their principles and then …if we manage to do this sincerely, believing every thing we learn to be true and best, our subconscious will build a framework based on this knowledge and use it when asked to react to the situation at hand.

We cannot think out these reactions or deal with them logically because the very nature of the subconscious is that it does not work through the mind.  It is instead the place where our instinct, our gut-feeling, our sixth-sense, our intuition resides.  That is why only when this innate essence of our nature resonates with something, then it will respond to it. And perhaps, this is when we begin to live our lives based on our principles in the true sense of the phrase.


Throughout my education as both a Creative and a Wordsmith, the lesson that stood out as most eye-opening was that it is necessary to first learn the rules of either trade before you can take the liberty to break them and create your own design.  It is impossible to surpass boundaries and think ‘outside of the box’ unless one first has an understanding and experience of what it is like to be ‘bound’.  You must feel the need to ‘free’ yourself in order to be able to act upon it and actually do something uniquely inspired.  Principles teach us what Design is, and then we manipulate those Principles to create new Design.  It is a Circle similar to that of Life.

Because isn’t Life of our own making?  Our own Design?  Don’t we have the freedom to choose the quality of our Life?

When I think upon the actions of some of our Aimmah (as), for example: Why did Imam Ali (a)  stay silent despite the injustice imposed upon him?  Why did Imam Husayn (a) stand up against oppression when neither his father nor his brother set the precedent for this?  Why did Fatima al-Zahra (a) voluntarily go to the court and demand her rights when all her life she had chosen to let her father and husband handle all such matters?  In the court of the accursed Yazid, Zainab al-Kubra (a) was already tortured by the snatching of her veil and she had her nephew there – so why then did she choose to call attention to herself and speak up?  What motivated these choices that may even seem contradictory to what we might have expected from the Holy Household?

It is this that we must understand, the reasons that were the basis for the behaviour of these individuals.  They did not live their lives by the book, in a monotonous manner, following a set of rules and regulations, performing certain acts at certain times, abiding by the Allowed and avoiding the Forbidden like trained robots.  These Chosen Individuals lived their lives to the fullest.  In times of happiness or grief, in joy or tragedy, they were always alive.  The core of their spirit was immersed in Divine Principles and thus, regardless of what their circumstances were, they were able to design their lives with these tools.

Right and Wrong, Truth and Falsehood.  These things never change.  Goodness has emanated from a Never-Changing Unique Entity and is a Constant – perhaps the only constant – in this universe.  That it why what someone does is secondary to why they did it.  Our Aimmah (as), whether they are placed in an 8th Century desert village or a 24th Century techno-jungle will always behave in the same manner – it is only the manifestation of their principles that would change.

And that is why we need to learn to emulate them.  To become not their followers in action alone, but in the perspective and reasoning that those actions are founded on.  We need to learn how to design our own paths, our destinies, our futures and our final destination using our principles.  Maybe then we’ll be able discover the purpose of our life and fulfill it…maybe then the questions will stop and we will discover the Inner Peace that eludes so many of us.



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