(Disclaimer: This post is not about pointing fingers at people either generally or specifically. It is about holding our wholeness as a community in the palms of our hands and weeping over our self-inflicted wounds. It is about hoping that people will shake their heads, open their minds and look within their hearts for their inner voice of truth and reason.
I pray our Imam (atfs) comes soon and that through him, God ‘fills the gaps in our confusions, removes the stains of anger and hatred from our hearts and guides us to the Truth on disputed matters. Ameen.)
The words are hard to find, but the silence is more oppressive. There is so much wrong and so little being done to right it. Lives are passing away; the dead from this world and the living through this world, yet neither group seems consciously aware of the other.
Sometimes, I want to walk up to someone – anyone – and shake them till their teeth rattle. Shake them and ask them why they are walking around asleep, doing things according to routine, laughing when they are told they are supposed to laugh and crying when they are told they are supposed to cry – never questioning whether either the joy or sorrow is deserved for that situation.
I want to be so angry that I can walk out of my home right up to a government office, demand a change in policy and then have that change happen. I want the impact of my fury to be so great that the powers-that-be have to submit to it. And every time I want to do this, every time I realise how impossible it is to do this, I feel despair. Utter, complete and absolute despair.
I hate being helpless, unable to make a difference that will matter. I hate only being able to increase awareness or raise funds and then realising that while that is a noble effort, it does little to change the situation on the ground.
Thousands of people are aware of what is happening in Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and are against it, and yet hundreds of innocents keep dying anyway. Information is supposed to be power, but having it isn’t saving anyone right now. Knowing that children are being tortured isn’t preventing their pain or deaths.
It’s time for action! Yes, but most of us don’t know what exactly that means or how to go about it. We allowed things to get out of hand and now we don’t know how to handle the rotting mess that is the fruit of our apathy. We sat by for too many years as one party slowly, systematically went about destroying the other and all the while we bought into the ‘It’s none of our business’ or ‘We can’t do anything about it’ spiel that was sold to us.
We sat on the fence pretending to look but never really seeing, shaking our heads and shedding crocodile tears when we were forced to stare, but always, always, at the end of the day we walked back to our cosy homes, slept in our warm beds and forgot that there others in the world who were sleeping on the rubble of their once-houses, under the cover of fire-and-brimstone skies, wondering who amongst them would be the next to vanish with the coming of a new dawn.
When these thoughts come to mind, when I open up my news feed and it is stained with the blood and tears of children, when their silent stares accusingly ask me: ‘Where were you when this was being done to us? Where are you now?’ – when these things confront me, I usually find myself responding with only one answer: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help. I too am waiting…
Waiting because there is only one person who can fix all this once and for all. Only one man who can stop this self-destructive whirlwind of oppression and destruction that keeps growing larger and larger and getting worse just when it reaches a point where we think it cannot do so. As followers of the path of Tashayyu, the Saviour we await, the one whom we call upon to arise, the one whose hope is what sustains us through every darkness – this man, this Imam, this Leader and Master, this Mahdi – is the crux of both our creation and salvation.
He is the only one who can solve the problem so entirely that it never comes up again. And yet, he does not come…
We were taught as children that the world needed to be filled with injustice and suffering before he could come with justice and peace. We were also taught that we needed to be prepared to support and help him when he did appear, to be the core task force he could trust and rely upon to obey his commands and carry out his strategies for peace.
The question I’ve been forced to ask myself recently is: Do things have to get worse for him to appear or do we have to get better?
Are we truly unable to do anything to save the oppressed worldwide, destined to wait helplessly until the Saviour comes and magically fixes everything with a wave of his hand? Or are we actually the problem – choosing comfort over sacrifice, routine over revival, material over spiritual and thus delaying the creation of the ideal circumstances required for the Solution?
We speak loudly and boldly at protest rallies and call ourselves ‘activists’, but we shy away when actual sacrifice is called for. Our ‘awareness’ and ‘passion’ for the plight of the sufferers lasts for a few hours of chanting and calling out slogans and a few minutes of social media ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, but then we continue with our lives as normal, neither changing our habits nor developing our spiritual selves to achieve the heights required by our Imam (atfs) in his companions.
(The below is not me issuing fatwas of any sort on any action. All these observations are from a purely social and akhlaq point of view. Just think about them, that’s all I’m asking.)
A small part of me dies when I see the young people around me – the youth that we have placed our hopes on, the future generation we are leaving as our proof of loyalty to our Awaited Imam (atfs) should we not make it to the time his Arrival. So many – too many – are busy pursuing the life of this world. They may not be obviously materialistic, they may even seem interested in religion and seek out more knowledge, but in terms of application of that knowledge, they are largely failing.
Young men (and women!) use expletives with ease and dressing in the way of those who would oppose, insult and hate Muslims, all in the name of adapting, blending in and making Islam more palatable to the world. Young women proudly label themselves ‘hijabistas’ and try to figure out what scarf will match with their latest lipstick buy and how to tie it in the latest fashion. People are making business professions out of what were once sincere efforts at spreading the message of Islam.
Preaching, reciting the Qur’an, latmiyyah and nasheeds have all become commercial careers now. We have ‘celebrities’ who blend the language and style of secular entertainers into their own presentations so that it becomes difficult to distinguish where it stopped being about the message in the poetry and started becoming about the poet and how he/she presents himself /herself.
Men and women are willing to stand up and aggressively defend the speakers they hero-worship, and yet back away from standing up to speak in defense of their basic beliefs. People – in exact opposite to the advice of Imam Ali (a) – starting to hinge their beliefs based on speakers and not bothering to clarify if what they say is right or not.
We once accused our parents and grandparents of blindly following a cultural Islam without understanding what they were doing, and yet so many of us are doing the same today – the only difference is the change in the culture we are adopting. We forget that the principle of hijab is a holistic one and think that simply covering our hair gives us the right to then behave in any way we want, whether in the presence or absence of na-mahrams.
We have become a society that thrives on sharing #Selfies and commenting with ‘Masha Allah’s and ”Subhanallah’s, never mind that the women in them are our na-mahrams. The highlighted fringes falling ‘unconsciously’ over our foreheads, our kohl-outlined eyes, our bright (insert colour of choice) lipstick and pouting #duckfaces – all these are prepared and staged for maximum phtographic impact.
When will we take the time to pause for a second and ask ourselves ‘Why?’ Why do Muslim women need to show the world what they look like in figure-hugging tops, random bare skin, high heels (don’t forget painted toes!) and massive head wraps? If hijab is about modesty and keeping a low profile in terms of attraction and beauty, then what exactly are we trying to achieve by putting up photos that yell “Like’ me! ‘Like’ me! and getting excited about the compliments we receive? When did hijab become about making a fashion statement? When did the veil of Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (a) and Lady Zaynab (a), the covering that our Masters Husayn ibn Ali (a) and Abul Fadhl Abbas (a) died protecting – when did that hijab become associated with words like ‘hawt’ or ‘gorg’ or ‘sex*y’?
The whole point of hijab is to allow the inner personality of a woman to come forth, to humanize her. Instead, we have fallen neatly into the same trap that we pity non-hijabi women for falling into. We need to realise that the process of commercializing and commodifying the female is the same regardless of whether she happens to have a piece of cloth covering her hair or not.
The very term ‘Selfie’ is revealing of the subconscious idea behind taking photos of oneself and then seeking validation for ones self image by displaying it for public viewing. Our generation is quick to quote from our Imams (a) about being humble, about seeking the spiritual path to the Almighty and the need to dissolve one’s ego in the process. How do we go about that if we’re so hung up on our physical selves?
And if it’s not selfies, it’s the ‘photo shoot’ craze – engagement shoots, registry shoots, pre-wedding shoots, wedding shoots (including all occasions), pregnancy shoots (complete with belly-shots) and then our children live out their lives posing in front of the all-seeing eye of the camera so that it becomes part of their normalcy to continue this addiction to preserve our lives visually. I’m not sure Shakespeare would appreciate how the world has truly become a stage and we are adopting our roles as ‘actors’ quite literally.
Sarcasm aside (and I apologize for falling into it now and again through this post, I really am trying very hard not to), please don’t get me wrong and think I have a bid’ah-esque attitude to cameras. I think they’re amazing devices. I think photography is a gift that allows us to see things we would otherwise have never seen. I even have several shoebox-fulls of photos from the time of my grandparents to those of my nieces and nephews and I love looking at them and feeling connected to the past. But they’re all tucked away in a cupboard, safe from the view of all, except those specifically concerned with them.
My issue isn’t with social media (which is an extremely powerful tool) or with taking photos, or the kind of photos a person may want to take at all. My issue is how we use them and how much we share them.
I see the effusive posts and statuses that are filled with PDA’s (Public Displays of Affection) and I can understand why one would want to share joy, it is after all a beautiful, infectious feeling. But I wonder if in our enthusiasm to share how happy we are and what fun we’re having and how blessed we are to have the people and things and experiences that we do, we don’t forget that there are many, many others who don’t have any of that.
As Shia’, we claim to follow the akhlaq and sunnah of the Prophet (s) and the Ma’soomeen (as) and for me, there are two things to consider:
a) Our Prophet (s) was of such a nature that if he was leaning on a wall or sitting with a pillow, he would sit up straight or remove the pillow if a guest came in and there wasn’t one for the other person. Our Ma’soomeen (as) were of the practice of never indulging in anything if those around them lacked the same thing. There is a quote being attributed to Imam Ali (a) doing rounds that advices never to speak of that which we have in front of those who don’t have it.
I know of this personally from different individuals and that why I am mentioning it here: When we share our wonderful couple photos, there are men and women who are still waiting and end up questioning why God hasn’t sent them their life partner yet. When we put up photos of our babies and how clever and cute they are, there are couples who have been desperately trying to have a child who feel just one more stab of pain that it wasn’t them instead of us. When we share the details of how caring and thoughtful our spouses are, there is some person out there who is struggling through their marriage and these thoughts only add to their dissatisfaction and frustration.
There is a good reason why we are advised at the start of our marriages not to share the details of our relationships with anyone else. Allah (SWT) Knows us and our failings…and so does Shaytan.
b) I thought long and hard for weeks on end over why this sharing of private moments bothered me. It wasn’t my life so why was I concerned? If it hurts others, then they shouldn’t look, right? And besides, I know that the people sharing all this are not doing it with a bad intention, they don’t want to hurt anyone, they’re not flaunting their lives – they’re simply sharing their happiness. So why did it still bother me? Why did I still blush and look away as if I’d been caught peeping into someone else’s personal space?
I went back to my initial premise: following the inner principles of the Ahlul Bayt (a). I know that for the previous generation and for some of us as well, showing affection openly between children and parents was alien. We respected our parents, kissed their hands and never spoke up against them, but the idea of hugs and kisses and ‘I love you’ s was foreign. I still remember the first time I read the history of Kerbala, I was shocked at the open love that was displayed between Imam Husayn (a) and members of his family. I was sure someone had added some ‘salt and pepper’ to the story because this seemed totally un-Islamic to me.
It took me a long time and re-study of my faith and role models before I began to understand how beautifully Islam establishes these relationships. How the Ahlul Bayt (a) were the perfect expression of everything balanced, how they blended love with trust and loyalty as it should be. The expressed their feelings but within boundaries of respect.
However, I also noticed one thing (and I am open to being corrected as I have not read exhaustively, and this is a purely personal observation): that while all the Ahlul Bayt (a) have expressed their love for their parents, their siblings and their children freely and sincerely, their expression for their spouses has been different.
Whether it is the Prophet (s) speaking of his most beloved wife Lady Khadijah (a), Imam Ali (a) speaking of Lady Fatimah (a) or Imam Husayn (a) speaking of Lady Rabab (a) – the few occasions when there has been a need for their spouses to be the subject of conversation, they have always spoken of them in measured terms of respect and admiration. They mention their support, their comfort, their advice, their piety, but we are not allowed any closer than that into their relationships. There is almost a barrier that says subtly: We loved them, they were essential to us, but the nature of that relationship is ours alone and not for the public to know or speculate about.
This for me is a defining line for what is to be kept private and what is to be shared. Perhaps we need to think about why the hijab exists in the first place again and why we are told not to describe other women or men to our spouses even in passing conversation? The idea of making our lives public is something we have (quite recently I believe) adopted from western culture and while there are many good things we have learnt from them, is this really one of them?
The more I look around, the more I see effects of very gentle nudges that have been shifting us from the clear path that we were meant to be set upon. Small, seemingly insignificant changes, little habits that seem attractive when we adopt them and then become a way of life without us ever realizing that at their core, they hold an element of something that is essentially non-akhlaqi. And once they become part of our lives, we find it harder and harder to disassociate with them or even see the need to.
After the tragedy of Karbala, the Banu Hashim went into such deep mourning for five or more years (until Ibn Ziyad was executed) that they did not sleep on soft bedding, did not apply kohl to their eyes or dye their hair in all this time. Does this mean that their lives stopped? That they didn’t go to work, get married or have children? I don’t think so, I think it just means that through every event in their lives, joyous or otherwise, they wove the threads of their sorrow so visibly that it was impossible for the watching world to forget what they were constantly remembering.
Is it not out claim that we are lovers of the Ahlul Bayt (a) as they were? Should we not mourn oppression and injustice to the innocent as they did? Are we not suffering the ‘loss’ of our Imam (atfs) as well? And yet, do we behave in any way that is a continuous message to others that we know what is happening to humanity and we will not allow it to go by unnoticed? Are our lives a reflection of the fact that we are missing an essential part of our selves – our Imam (atfs) – and that we are incomplete without him?
We continue to have elaborately themed parties for our children, conduct weddings and celebrations with splendour and spend money on entertainment and relaxation because we need ‘a break’ from the stress of life.
How many of us have thought to turn a birthday party into a charity-and-du’a event where the invited can pray and contribute towards helping the many causes worldwide, rather than bring gifts that the birthday child probably has a whole collection of already anyway and will barely play with? Perhaps we can eat simple fare instead of the usual cakes and party-food and instead take baskets of basic needs to an nearby center for the needy or volunteer at a soup kitchen – whatever options are available in our locality.
Or instead of having the many cultural occasions that we consider part of a wedding, why not give that money to help educate and feed those in need, maybe even contribute to their weddings? Instead of our ‘mandwos‘ and ‘mehndhi parties‘ and ‘receptions‘, why not hold a prayer session and recite Ziyarate Ashura for the oppressed or Dua al-Nudba for the faster appearance of our Imam (atfs)? Why not invite people and then show them a presentation on the state of Syria, Iraq, Palestine and other places that face attack and increase awareness about the situation?
Are we so dispassionate (I refrain from using the word ‘selfish’ because I would like to think better of us) that we can’t even consider turning frivolous and extravagant gatherings into places of education and opportunities to plant the seeds of true intedhaar in the hearts of people? Wouldn’t our celebrations be more noble, our endeavours more blessed and – most importantly – our Imam (atfs) be more pleased with us if we did this?
This may sound harsh and I definitely am NOT putting down the efforts of all the youth, parents and children who have contributed to causes. However, generally, we seem to stop thinking beyond what is convenient – we donate some money, sign a petition or boycott a product. Heck, sometimes, we can even have fun while we raise funds, right? (Which is another thing to think about as well – the disparity between enjoying ourselves while raising money for desperately miserable situations. Do we always have to give our children and ourselves fat, juicy carrots before we can be convinced to do something that is our responsibility anyway?)
What about actually, really, practically changing our lives? Abandoning old habits, working hard to adopt new ones – something that requires coming out of our comfort zones and doing something long term. Something that requires us to make a life-long commitment to start truly submitting to God and His Message.
We keep asking how we can help, keep saying it’s such a shame we can’t go and fight alongside the soldiers and give our lives to such noble causes. Then why are we so scared to fight the battle that is within our reach? Why are we not eagerly and passionately embracing this jihad? Why do we find it so hard to boycott Israeli products if we happen to use them often? Yes, it’ll make life difficult, but considering that buying those products is making life impossible for Palestinians, why are we still hesitant and reluctant?
It’s no wonder the Prophet (s) called this the Greater Struggle – the one that calls for true courage, and the one so many of us fail. Sometimes without even attempting to enter the battlefield.
Can we honestly claim that we have in us the capacity to sacrifice as the companions of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a) or Imam Husayn Sayyidush Shuhadaa (a) did? We say every Thursday night in Ziyarat al-Waaritha: “‘If only I had been with you, I would have succeeded with you“, but do we really think we could have handled the confusion of ideology at Siffin and come out on the right side? Do we believe that we could have survived 3 days of intense thirst and hunger and still stood steadfast by the side of our Imam (a), let alone had the energy to take part in battles and the resilience to survive the journey through Kufa and Shaam?
In the Qur’an, God demands of us “O you who have faith! Why do you say what you do not do?” (61:2) Have we no awareness of God in us that we can read this verse and not tremble in fear that we are the ones being addressed and that we are absolutely guilty of what He is questioning us about?
Where do we intend to go to hide our failings and cover our shameful faces?
There is no hiding in Islam, because there is no place to hide from Him except in His Forgiveness and Mercy. The only option in Islam is to change. To look back, accept our mistakes and then move forward with new resolutions, new loyalty, new focus. This is the ‘progressive’ nature of our faith.
As long as I am writing this and you are reading this, there is always hope that we can influence the future; our own and that of the world. We can, with whatever time we have left in our lives, write a different ending to our story, to the story of humanity.
And so my post comes to an end, with the pain still in my heart, the burden still weighing heavy on my soul and a bitter taste in my mouth that there should have come a day when I had to write all this. Because I have not written this out of spite or the need to criticise.
I have written these words because I don’t understand how we can have so much feeling and empathy for the world and yet not care about ourselves and our children. I have written them because the love I have for our faith and our community demands from me that I not watch silently as we slowly chip away at our foundation and replace it with the weak strands of promises that have no more weight than a spider’s web.
I have written these words because I hope some of us will think, some of us will consider and some of us will begin the journey towards change and growth, because this is the community in which I hope to bring up my children and grandchildren and I am selfish enough to want the best we have to give for them, so that they in turn become the best we have to give to God and our Imam (atfs).