by Fahim Ferdous Promi
Religions – specially the Abrahamic religions; more specifically Islam, in recent times, have been denigrated to a series of laws and regulations that line up to form a checklist for its devotees to complete as they move on up the aisle towards buying themselves a coupon ticket to Paradise. This is the modern day crisis of faith.
It is indeed a serious issue in the community of Muhammad left behind today. We set out everyday to fulfill a plethora of chores in our to-do list: pray five times a day, check; fast next Monday, check; grow a beard, check; convince my little sister to wear a headscarf, check – we treat all these deeds not as acts of the spirit but merely actions of flesh and bone. The inherent wisdom behind the Islamic lifestyle is lost.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of modern-day Islam is the way we treat the Holy Scriptures as not the unadulterated Divine Discourse between God and Man but rather a measly book of do’s and don’ts written down by some strange man in the desert as a bundle of stories.
If I were to write a book today, a novel with a character that eats a certain way, speaks a certain way, sleeps facing a certain direction, and then centuries down the line some archaeologist stumbles upon the thing and tells all his children to follow the actions of the character in the story simply because he likes it, how absolutely insane would it be? However, that is exactly how we have begun to treat Islam. Eat this, don’t eat that. Why? Because the Qur’an says so. Wear this, don’t wear that. Why? Because the Hadith says so. People are just being fed to live a certain life only because a myriad of scribbles inked onto a stack of paper tells them to do so.
Now, instead, consider this. So we have the aforementioned book with the character. I write it down. Someone finds it. They know about me, let’s say that by the time the novel is discovered I am some sort of legendary author and the character I have penned is an inspiring hero of lore. The children read it, they love me and they love the character I have designed so much so that they want to grow up and be just like him. That is what Islam is supposed to be. You read the Qur’an, you fall in love with the Author, understand Him, wish to know Him better, cherish the virtues that are desirable to Him and try to imbue yourself with them to attain His affection.
The Qur’an is the Sacred Speech of God where He tells us the stories of men and women who He raised above all creation and those who He has damned below all creation. Through reading it we are to understand the traits that He loves, try to comprehend why is it that He chose to elevate Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Noah, Mary and Muhammad while condemn Abu Lahab, Nimrod, the Pharaoh and Satan. Their stories are not to be meaningless bedtime narratives to us but morals with glad-tidings and warnings.
Let us take for an instance the example of a child hearing the epic saga of Harry Potter and Voldemort. They identify with the former as the hero who is to be admired and respected, and the latter as the villain who is to be despised and loathed. Now, human nature is driven with the urge to earn respect and admiration, and once the child understands Harry is the one to be respected and admired, the child imitates him to accomplish exactly that while avoiding the traits expressed by Voldemort to avert being seen as the hated adversary, the outcast.
Switching our focus back to Islam and the Qur’an, we too have stories akin to that of Harry Potter and Voldemort but the stage is even grander. The characters here are not only vying to garner attention, admiration and respect from their peers but One far exalted – God. And this is where the Love of God is so important. Why must the reader be driven to earn the admiration of God? See, if a person does not like someone, if that person could not care less about what this someone thought of them, then why would that person sacrifice all the pleasures of their life to earn that someone’s respect and admiration? And let us be extremely blunt here, God asks us to make very many sacrifices quite very many times throughout the Qur’an and sacrifice is an extremely prevalent theme throughout the theological and historical lore of Islam.
What we must ask ourselves is this: Was Abraham going to slaughter his child mercilessly because some vengeful voice in the sky asked him to do so? Was he going to do it so that he could simply go to Heaven? Did John stand against the tyranny of Herod and lose his head for an indifferent holy being of nothingness? Did Mary wander the deserts outside Palestine all by herself bearing the excruciating pangs of childbirth for the fulfillment of some divine will she did not understand? Did Muhammad spend months eating leaves outside the walls of Mecca out of some senseless, misguided desire for self-torture? Did Husayn stand against the brutality of Yazid’s sadistic regime of oppression and injustice knowing full well that he was going to die because of some misplaced passion for achieving martyrdom? The answer to all of the above questions is a resounding ‘no.’
Abraham loved God and he trusted God. He knew that if God was guiding him then God was leading his path towards good and righteousness. We know Abraham longed for a child all his life, he was not simply about to give it up because of the pleasures of Heaven. All the pleasures in existence he could long for came through the fulfillment of his wish to father a child: he could desire for nothing more. But then, why sacrifice that which was his greatest source of joy and happiness? Because his love for God was greater and his trust on Him was profound. He knew God would not misguide him and plunge him astray hurling towards misery.
Nowadays, our love for God is lacking. We do not trust God; even more so, we do not know God and how can we ever trust that which we do not know? Thus we are not ready to sacrifice for Him. We are unsure if what we are to give up will ever be reimbursed. We are unsure if what we are to forsake will ever be returned. We are unsure if our faith is ever to be rewarded. The zeal to follow the footsteps of Muhammad, Imam Ali and Husayn, of Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan and Abu Bakr as-Sadiq, of David, Jacob and Solomon will never be there unless we instill into ourselves what was instilled into them; until we inspire ourselves with what inspired them; they did not see Islam as a manifesto of laws but rather the Way towards a Divine Union between themselves and the Eternal Beloved.