Grief, Authenticity and Hope

https://www.flickr.com/photos/daves-f-stop/16190888316
As the blessed month of Ramadan is nearing its end, I would like to share a story that is encountered in the Qur’an which has a profound message for those who are experiencing sadness, disappointment, and frustration in life. It is about Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him) and what he felt when he lost his dearest son, Joseph.
When we lose something or fail at an endeavor that we are working hard to achieve, the pain can oftentimes be too much that it is beyond our control. We may attempt to hide it to others, try to dismiss it or turn to distractions, or those around us would snap us and say, ‘just move on with it’. But failing to acknowledge the loss and the pain that it brings only artificially covers it. It will manifest on other forms because it remained unacknowledged.
When Prophet Jacob lost his son, he fell in a state of immense grief. He was told that his son was killed but he knew that it was a lie, and by Divine revelation, firmly believed that Joseph is still alive. He cried day and night, life almost stopped for the old man. It was by being a father and a human being that he felt this need to grieve and be sad. He did not fight it back, or erase it on his memory just to move with the ebb of life. The mere fact that he knew that his son is alive but not knowing how he is, when will he be coming back or will he be still reunited with him only added to the difficulty that he felt.
It was all too much for him that he lost his eyesight. Sadness, year after year passed. But there is still no news for Joseph. The father waited and waited, with grief and hope that he will still be reunited with his son. Until one day, when it was almost over – that the shirt of his long-awaited was cast on his face and his sight returned. And eventually the vision of the dream was fulfilled and so was the truth and his family reunited.
Denying someone the time to grieve is like refusing to give air to a suffocating person. Not acknowledging the reality of loss and sadness and trying to cover it up with something else is like setting a time bomb that will explode anyway.
Prophet Jacob mourned because he loved his son dearly, and his disappearance meant that his love seems to have been thrown out of nowhere. Gone is the son who is the object of his affection. He cannot express it anymore, and that loss of the beloved cannot be replaced anymore because of its unique place in the heart of the father. There is no closure. It will not let go, and will not forget because of the certainty that his son is still alive, that the vision that was relayed to him was not yet fulfilled.
This is the case with many of us. The reason why we experience this almost endless pain is that we continue to hold on to what is dear to us. We are hoping that there is still a chance that we will regain what we lost or overcome the disappointments that occurred which happened beyond our control. And so we take the time to grieve, to reflect how it might have been, to acknowledge, to find meaning and to gain once more the will to move forward despite the pain.
Prophet Jacob never lost hope despite his grief, nor did he turned his back on life. He remained firm in his faith, he constantly turned to Allah, and to him he relayed his condition. He did not pretend to be strong by denying his sadness. He showed it to his family and those around him how he missed his son so much, and how he is waiting for the day that he will return. He remained authentic and true to his feelings and to his condition, there was no need to pretend or hide his weakness. Despite his lofty standing as a Prophet of Allah, he did not manipulate what he felt within himself and his vulnerability out of fear of people’s judgment. It was his genuineness as a human being that he exemplified, staying true to ones present condition, of not caring the insult or malice of others.
There was no need to put on a mask to display a facade of false strength. It was this acknowledgment of grief, sadness and the presence of pain that Prophet Jacob exemplified whenever I as a person think about when I lose something or someone that is dear to me, or when frustrations and disappointments come almost on a daily basis. It reminds me of a trait that humanity in these approval and fame seeking times are compromising – authenticity. There is always a time and a need to grieve and be sad, to be true to oneself and to others, to acknowledge the existence of pain and loss, and yet in the midst of what seems to be the impossible – to never lose hope.
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On Transience and Continued Existence

A physician once wrote of an encounter he had with a young poet and his quiet friend. They spent one summer afternoon walking through the countryside, looking through the beauty of nature and the passing landscapes and Dolomites. He observed that the poet who, despite admiring the beauty of the surroundings, expressed that he felt no joy in it. He was disturbed by the fact that all this was fated to extinction, and that this landscape and its lush vegetation will vanish when winter came, just like human beauty and life, and ‘all that he would otherwise have loved and admired’ are losing their worth by the inevitable doom which is the fate of all.

The doctor, in an attempt to console the poet, told him that the worth of things or people is not diminished by virtue of its ephemeral nature; rather, it increases its worth. He said, ‘Transience value is scarcity value in time’. That the beauty of nature after it was destroyed by winter comes back each spring; that a flower that blooms only once is not on any account less lovely, that a work of art or an intellectual achievement does not lose worth because of its temporal limitation.

To him, these were convincing arguments, but he noticed that his attempts to console the poet and his sympathetic friend did not make a remarkable impression upon them. He soon realized that there was an emotional factor which was affecting the two, and this is the revolt in their minds against mourning. They were expressing this view to avoid the pain or despair of having to accept the loss of something or someone, like in this case, the beauty of the summer landscape – which eventually through the transition to another season, will change or vanish. This emotion or thought prevents them from expressing joy, despite their admiration of it. The summer landscape in itself is representative to many other realities, goals, or beings which individuals have the capacity to admire, to be attached to, and sometimes, by all means, would secure and protect from being taken away from them.

But what causes the pain that results in mourning that these two individuals are wanting to avoid? According to the doctor (whom I will identify as we go on), at the earliest stages of life, human beings’ capacity for love is directed to their own selves. Later, still at those early stages, that love is directed to other objects or people significant in their lives like parents or immediate family members. If the objects or people with whom that love had been directed to, are destroyed or lost, that love is freed and then either directed towards other objects, pursuits or people, or return once again to the self. He says that ‘why this detachment’ of love from objects or people lost be such a painful process is a mystery. When that love clings to the beloved, and will not accept the loss or parting – that is the painful process of mourning.

But why are the two companions of the doctor refuse to ‘mourn’ by expressing their ‘lack of joy’ despite their admiration of the beautiful landscape? This brings us to another event in the physician’s life which, at some point will shed light to the mystery of why pain in loss and parting is an accompaniment of mourning.

The doctor learned the death of the daughter of a colleague of his. In expression of condolences, he shared his own experience that after losing his daughter and grandson, he ‘became tired of life permanently’. After proposing to his colleague a project which would serve as a ‘distraction’ to alleviate his grief, he told him, ‘one has the choice of dying oneself or acknowledging the death of the loved one, which again comes very close to your expression that one kills the person.’ This statement came after the doctor responded to his friend’s meditation on his own grief, which the latter described as a second killing of his child. Both thus expressed their belief that ‘every act of mourning conceals a betrayal, a kind of killing of the loved person by letting the person go; and that guilt over this murder endows mourning with its nearly bottomless agony, and explains why so many refuse, unconsciously, to mourn’. In mourning, by letting go of the dead, one kills again what one misses most; yet the sense of guilt for this ‘murder’ brings with it a renewal of life, because otherwise, swallowed by grief, the mourner would turn his back on life.

The doctor whom I had been referring to is a Viennese psychiatrist who founded the discipline of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. The events described in the idyllic summer walk with his two companions were written on a brief essay ‘On Transience’ which was intended as a contribution for a publication called ‘Das Land Goethes’. The essay in itself is a metaphorical representation of his encounters with people, including his patients, poets, friends, family members, a princess, and his daughter; it addresses a very important existential question: what value does life hold in the face of extinction?

What is most surprising is that the summer walk described on the essay, did not occurred at all. The conversation he had with his two companions, were likely to have been exchanged under chandeliers and crowded halls, during the fourth international psychoanalytical congress. His two companions were the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and a psychoanalyst and writer, Lou Andreas Salome. What was described on the essay is a metaphor, a kind of literary remembering to make sense of troubling existential questions, to combine the summary of his encounters with people and their views, and the joy he felt in exploring nature and visiting the summer countryside with his family.

***

The existential question, love and loss, and the pain or denials of mourning are universal concerns throughout the collective history and experience of human beings. When confronted with the idea of permanent extinction, this would provoke a sense of despair, confusion, or even denial. After death, is that it? But what lies after ones death? Can one say with a firm certainty that one knows where one is headed after his demise? To term death as the end of everything would necessitate having to face a multitude of other questions: What is the telos of life? Why is death necessary? Why do we feel pain and grief on the loss of people, or even of our own life? What is the worth of life: is it more or less and on what standards will we judge it upon? One does not only live in the present. The present leads to a future that one is working or waiting for. And throughout life, one is always moving forward in anticipation of something that will occur in the future. If death is the absolute end of life, then the means of what one is doing now in the present only leads to it. Even if in between, a person may anticipate something positive or work to achieve an immediate or long-term goal, on the other hand, looking at the larger picture, aren’t these actions only tiny steps leading towards the end, an end of which there is no certainty of when and how it will come, and where it will lead to?

It is not surprising that human beings do not accept death as the ultimate end. If it is, then it will render useless and meaningless all endeavors, morality, beliefs and principles. It is, at the very least recognized as the end of life in a physical sense, but the mind recognizes that life has another dimension, that the human component is not at all entirely composed of a physical structure. The problem with materialist mentality is that it reduces everything in this world to the physical, ignoring the metaphysical even if is not capable of being disproven. If we are to look into civilizations, beliefs, and collective traditions throughout history and even in the present, the concept of an afterlife is universal. Where did this came from, except from Divine revelation and the innate nature of humanity, Fitrah to acknowledge it?

There is an aspect and a quality within a person that enables him to recognize that there is an intangible spirit within his being that will continue living in another dimension even if his physical body disintegrates. That spirit will continue to live, albeit in another dimension. Thus, even if he is conscious of the inevitability of physical death, there is an awareness that a part of him will still continue to live and exist. Going back on the concept of transience, we can affirm that in consideration of the physical aspect of a human being – death is the end, and therefore its physical life is transient. But as the doctor has said, death does not in any way make life less worthy because of its transience. Existence will still continue, not only in the physical sense as generations come one after the other, but on the individual level, that the spirit of the departed exists on another realm which we no longer have access to or capable of perceiving. On the 56th to 057th verses of Surah Al Rahman, it is written,

All that is on earth will perish: but will abide (for ever) the Face of thy Lord,- full of Majesty, Bounty and Honor.

No doubt, the question of loss of life baffles many. One seeks answers to find more questions. In the case of the story of the two people refusing to face the inevitability of mourning, the doctor responding from his own pragmatic point of view – not unless one is acquainted with the Divine revelation, they were all forced to face these questions through speculation and wandering. Yes, by the soundness of an argument we may be convinced by answers offered to us by those who have deeper insight on the nature of life, but how would it be if we were not given the chance of encountering them, where will we get the answers? What is the sense of it all, where will it lead to? Where is the retribution for justice against the unfairness of life? Why this beauty of nature must end, and why life is doomed to the grave?

What an agony is the state of a person who does not acknowledge the existence of the Divine. He is left on his own, using his limited mind and judgment to reason out his own purpose. One is born into this world, passing through the stages of life reflecting (or refusing to reflect) as to why he is alive. If these questions are too hard to answer, he blocks everything out by means of distractions or refusal to accept and acknowledge that there is a reason.

What is noticeable with the observations of the doctor and his companions is that they were focused only on the immediate people around them and the ‘outward appearance of their surroundings’ and then equated what they see as the end within themselves. They did not acknowledge the presence of a Creator who brought what they are seeing into existence. And this is what blurs their minds – their refusal to believe in the Divine. The result is their existential anxiety, caused by their denial and refusal to accept and appreciate the wisdom of why all of that they see in nature at one point in time must appear, and then eventually must come to pass. Their minds were confused and so do their view of life, death, love, loss, and resurrection.

And they say: “What is there but our life in this world? We shall die and we live, and nothing but time can destroy us.” But of that they have no knowledge: they merely conjecture.

Surah Al-Jathiyah: 24

For those who believe and observe nature around them with minds not corrupted with distracting philosophical views (or distorted Fitrah), they will recognize the truth and find the answers to these questions. This world and this life of ours exist because of a purpose. There is an intelligent and purposeful Creator who brought everything into existence. The passing seasons, when plants wilt and then die, and grow and bloom once again, are signs for us to our mortality and a time when we shall be brought to life once again. For flowers to bloom again in spring is, at the face of transience, there is a continuation of life. We cannot appreciate the beauty of life by not acknowledging death: the transition to another realm or stage of life which is no longer within the reach of our perception. These things that occur in nature are not simply metaphors to be contemplated upon, but are in fact pointing to the stage of human life beyond physical death.

They say: “What! when we are reduced to bones and dust, should we really be raised up (to be) a new creation?”

Surah Al-‘Isra’: 49

This realization of a resurrection and an afterlife is indeed universal throughout the history of humankind, which if I may, is an integral part of the Fitrah (primordial nature to know the truth) of every human being. Proofs of this are the countless motifs found in individual narratives, traditions, literature, religious beliefs, and even in philosophical meanderings. The reason why many people experience existential anxiety and formulate unclear answers to questions relating to loss, purpose, and justice is the blurring out of the concept of life beyond death, taking account of one’s actions, and retribution against injustices in afterlife.

Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity: To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return. Surah Al-Baqarah: 155-156

Yes, everything shall perish, but nothing shall ever be lost forever because everything which is brought to existence serves a lasting purpose. We may mourn for the loss of what is dear to us, but in the realization that all things are subject to change and passing away, that they are meant for something which we may have the ability to discern or not – the pain and scars thus shall also heal in due time.

(to be continued…)

Islamic Law and Modernity

I believe that public order has to be built on civil values that are matters of consensus in the society. Consensus is a necessary practical and juridical consideration. The “Islamicity of the state” itself in the Islamic Fiqh is defined according to a number of values that must exist in the “Land of Islam”. These values, whether Muslims are majority or minority, define the Islamicity of a land. No scholar has ever said that the definition of an “Islamic state” depends on whether Muslims are majority or minority. An “Islamic State” is a state where Muslims are allowed to practice Islam as a way of life freely and where people enjoy good levels of justice, security, and the rest of these “civil” values.

Not everything that is mentioned in the Qur’an in clear language is a thing that is meant to be applied literally as an end in its own right. Diligent scholars have to ask: Is this verse a means to an end or is it an end in its own right? Means mentioned in the Qur’an such as horses, swords, and the like, and distributing spoils of war, non-Muslim tax, and the like … are not fixed ends. They are changeable means with the change of history, geography, circumstances, and people. Differentiating between means and ends is an important consideration when we talk about “applying the Shari’ah” today.

– Dr. Jasser Auda

ISIS: Between Reality & the Fiction of Conspiracy Theory

Mohamed Ghilan

basmala_01il_fullxfull.418001820_i14l*This article appeared originally in Arabic here.

The low morale and sluggishness of thought that has taken over too many Muslims has reached such an extent that a foe would weep over it before a friend. Are we really that unable to think in a rational way that takes into account realities on the ground, and prefer to explain everything we see in the Middle East in terms of some grand conspiracy theory devised by the West against Muslims? It is important to note here that when we as Arabs use the term “Muslims” we really mean Arabs in specific, not Muslims in general. There are Muslims who live in Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia. But we do not see them suffering the conditions we see Muslims in Burma or Kashmir suffer. If we restrict our explanation for the political events taking place in the world that they are a…

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Projection Limitation


I found this anonymous quote while I was browsing through some blogs yesterday and it read,

I’m always struck by the irony that the behavior I dislike most in others, is the same behavior I dislike in myself— perhaps the reason I react so strongly when I see it in others is because I am reproaching myself.’

Upon reading, it brought about some things which had been sitting at the back of my mind for quite sometime, things which had been achingly hoping to be expressed. This experience or insight came to my attention when I first encountered it when I was on college, and eventually since then, I often use it as a basis for analyzing my actions and thoughts— something which cause me to be alert or conscious whenever I think or am doing something. I also use it on gaining insights from observing people which became a habit I had been doing since I became interested in studying human behavior. Although from this point of view, this is not a matter of a judgmental attitude, because I use it to gain insight and educate myself and others on the nature of interpreting behavior and adapting to situations. By this habit of forming insights, I learned ways on adapting with people and situations while keeping my character and principles intact. Adapting and then keeping oneself intact is something which requires balance and ability of discernment. Nurturing both is something very much needed, at least from my point of view.

Psychoanalysis and Change

The matter of disliking oneself, criticizing others, judging others negatively, etc. has been studied in-depth on a theory in psychology which is called Psychoanalysis. This theory was founded by Sigmund Freud, a Viennese psychiatrist around 1887, and which later on, was expounded by his students and subsequent psychologists. It was considered a science, a cornerstone of modern-day psychiatry and psychology, although research conducted on this theory were mostly not validated within the scientific method of trial and error experimentation. Until this day, its basic principles, if not rejected, remained open to debate by scientific circles in the study of human behavior. It is being used on assessment and treatment, but it remains largely, as a field of thought bordering between philosophy, science, and literature.

Under Psychoanalysis, there is this subject matter called the ‘Defense Mechanisms’. To understand the nature of these Defense Mechanisms, let us take a brief look at the background or basis of why these Defense Mechanisms are being studied under this theory. Psychoanalysis states that human behavior is being motivated by two forces: the life force (eros) and the death force (thanatos). The self is divided into three components: the id (instinct), the ego (the conscious self, mediator), and the superego (conscience). Between the life and death forces, the three components of the self struggle to balance and compensate one with the other, and usually, it is the ego component which mediates. This so-called ‘struggling’ and ‘compensation’ inevitably results in ‘anxiety’ because there is a continual need of the self to balance the two conflicting forces.

Due to this resulting anxiety, a person consciously or unconsciously uses the Defense Mechanisms to ‘defend’ himself or ‘ward-off’ the unpleasant feelings of anxiety. Thus, the Defense Mechanisms are being put to action. The psychological make-up or character of a person has an influence on what kind of defenses he will use. One of these Defense Mechanisms is one which is called ‘Projection.’
Projection – Attributing ones own unacknowledged feelings to others. It includes severe prejudice, rejection of intimacy through suspiciousness, hypervigilance to external danger, and injustice collecting. Projection operates correlatively to introjection, such that the material of the projection is derived from the internalized configuration of the introjects. At higher levels of function, projection may take the form of misattributing or misinterpreting motives, attitudes, feelings, or intentions of others.

– Synopsis of Psychiatry, 6th Ed. 1991

Going back on the anonymous quote, it can be said that the person who wrote it is aware of his own thoughts and their occurrence (which is called ‘metacognition’), and perhaps, the kind of ‘defense’ he is using to protect himself. It may be that seeing from the outside, the person who wrote it will not acknowledge that the behavior he dislikes in others is a projection of his own disliked behavior. But he is aware of his own thoughts, and based from his own insight, he is not misattributing to others what he dislikes; rather, he acknowledges it within himself. It is then sufficient to infer that the anonymous quote is in direct opposition with the meaning of projection which is ‘attributing ones own unacknowledged feelings to others,’ because he is acknowledging his own feelings.

Based from this example of insight making, I became more aware of how important it is to be conscious of our own thought processes and actions. It is not something to be taken negatively like ‘judging others’ or ‘criticizing others’. If a person is aware of his own thoughts and actions, he will be careful on doing or thinking something which will be taken against him or put him on a defensive stance. As there is a particular saying that goes, ‘be your own worst critic.’ This goes against some mainstream ideas which promote deluding oneself with false hopes or ideals which are against reality.

Although I had mentioned this theory of Psychoanalysis and the nature of Defense Mechanisms, it does not exactly mean that I am advocating in favor of this theory. When I was still a student, I would spend hours at the library reading various books which explain and expound about it and I had found that it has a lot of critics as well, most of whom were its former adherents. They eventually slipped out of it and formed their own schools of thought and theories such as Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, while at the same time, citing criticisms and its controversial aspects. I don’t exactly know if it is still widely used today in actual practice in psychology, although there probably would still be practitioners who use it.

Psychoanalysis, as a whole, is a school of thought— like branches of philosophy which can be debated at, studied, disproved etc. At some point, there are some aspects or ideas which can be derived from it which can be used in understanding of human behavior, but as a word of caution – it should never be treated or taken as an absolute truth. The same is true with the rest of the branches of psychology like Cognitive, Experimental, Behaviorism, Gestalt, etc.

Science is always changing— researches are continuously conducted, new discoveries are being made, old theories are discarded and then replaced by new ones, new inventions are being designed, and new opinions or insights are being formed. All is in a constant state of change.

Everything that changes can never be taken as ‘absolute’, what is relative can never be absolute. And therefore, what is dependent on change can never be relied upon or accepted as the absolute truth. Even our own formed insights can haphazardly change through the passing of time, since we do not know that there might be a situation in the future which will alter the way we perceive and understand things. In other words, there can be insights, a way of understanding— but if what we base our thoughts and actions from is something which is relative like psychology or science, how can we have certainty? Could we be content or simply depend on this constant change which is always happening? How do we strike the balance? How can we remain intact if we rely on something which is not certain?

Projection

This brings me on thinking about an incident that happened, again, at college. We were attending a talk which was being delivered by a human resources practitioner. He asked us to get a piece of paper and then write a list of things which we hate about other people. It is quite surprising to notice that this activity has something in common with the situation stated on the anonymous quote which was pointed out earlier. So I wrote, and looking back, I can’t remember exactly what I put on that paper. Then, after we had finished, he said that what we wrote on those papers are exactly who we are. In other words, the things that you say you hate are exactly you— yours. What you wrote reflects who you are. What you hate about others ‘is’ you. And then, I heard my seatmate saying in a surprised manner, ‘that’s true.’ But how could it be? Can we say that the speaker told the truth, or was it that he was able to play a trick on his audience? I was left wondering and thinking about it. Yes, what I wrote are exactly the things that I hate on other people, but it does not necessarily mean that I am what I hate. I know myself, what I like and what I hate. When I hate something, I stay away from it. It does not mean that what I hate is who I am— I stay away from what is hateful to me.

For example, a person who upholds the values of honesty and honor will not tolerate or accept any false accusation that he is a thief or a criminal. It is either that he will stay away from his accusers or simply ignore them. A person who likes to be clean stays away from dirty things which are hateful to him. These are two practical examples. And so, through the back of my mind, what the speaker said was not in accordance with what I uphold as a person. There is no place for me in twisting the straightforward truth to make it appear crooked.

I realized then, that the activity was a form of trick, of playing with people’s minds to convince them what they are truly not. This is called ‘Psychological Manipulation’ a form of deception. It involves suggesting and injecting ideas into people’s minds and then convincing them that it is theirs or them. This is a widespread phenomenon of deceiving people and twisting the truth. It is widely being used in the media, entertainment, advertising, and even on law enforcement agencies. It alters and damages people’s perceptions and modes of thinking and seeks to control them, through various means of deception, speech and visual trickery.

If we are to look back at the definition of ‘Projection’ which is, attributing ones own unacknowledged feelings to others… At higher levels of function, projection may take the form of misattributing or misinterpreting motives, attitudes, feelings, or intentions of others, we might infer that severely criticizing the activity or statement of the speaker as a form of Psychological Manipulation can be taken as a form of projection for my part. But if we are to look into the facts and into history, we will see the proofs and drastic results of Psychological Manipulation which were done in the form of activities similar to what the speaker told us to do. To generalize it under the exclusivity of ‘Projection’ will be to reduce all forms of constructive criticism and observation under its umbrella and then use it against the well-intentioned observer.

Psychological Manipulation

There are many lives which were affected due to the adverse consequences of entertainment and advertising. Innocents were made to believe and confess crimes that they never committed, through psychological trickery and injecting false information on their minds. The media contributed all throughout history the spreading of lies, misinformation, prejudice, suspicion, racism, and hatred. It dictated unrealistic and false standards for people to follow, and these standards had destroyed many lives and minds. This is outright unfair and unreasonable. This definition of Projection is too general and not everything falls under its criteria. Which is why, we need to be aware of our own thought processes and examine what we perceive around us and the degree to which our environment influences our attitudes, behavior, and actions. Once we are caught on our unawares, we might not realize that we might be unknowing victims of manipulation and control.

Psychologists, whether they are students or practitioners, are taught and trained to study the nature of human behavior and to understand and help people in coping with their daily lives. I believe that what we were taught should be used to understand oneself and others, and this understanding is guided according to a very specific goal and purpose— why do we exist and why God created us—that is Ibadah (worship). Psychology or any other science, any field of endeavor or inquiry, should be sought for purposes with what God created us for. It is mentioned in the Noble Qur’an:

“And I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone).” (Qur’an 51:56)

It is so sad that we are confronted on all sides with all forms of delusions and false information which lead us farther and farther away from the truth. Even though through my quiet observations, my mind is raging in opposition with what I see. I look forward that at some point, these observations will be made known to someone who might understand and views situations with a clear and broad perspective. I am not saying that I am right all the time, but there is flicker of hope that there will be those who are in open opposition with all of these rampant deceptions and adhere to the truth will all certainty and firmness. Human opinion and insight are not safe from mistakes, for consciously or unconsciously, we are influenced by external factors or internal motives which lack the certainty and purity of truth.

Without the guidance and principles of this absolute truth, what then is the sense of pursuing the endeavor of human inquiry, science?

As what was mentioned earlier, how can we rely on something which is not certain? We need to have a firm foundation from which to base our perceptions and principles. Otherwise, if there is too much reliance on things which are subject to change, the inevitable result will be confusion and chaos. It would be argued that change and conflict are crucial for development and progress.

But then, without the firm foundation, all forms of endeavor will be rendered useless and nonsense if they are based only on shifting and shaking foundations subjected to change and conflict.

Slavery (Al Ubudiyyah)

One of the books that made a significant mark on the way I understand Islam, and which greatly changed the way I see the concepts of worship, slavery, submission, and love – was the brief and concise book of a 13th century Muslim scholar, Imam Ahmad Ibn ‘Abdul-Halim Ibn ‘Abdus-Salam Ibn Taymiyyah Al-Harrani (d. 728), titled Slavery. It was originally titled in Arabic as Al Ubudiyyah.

As a young child, I rummaged through my father’s books and the thin white book at that time, didn’t made such an impression on me because I thought that it was about the literal phenomenon of slavery – and even then, I might not even made a sense out of it due to my young age. The name of the author, whom at many times I heard from my father, as being a scholar of Islam – despite his immense encyclopedic knowledge and piety, he was subjected to persecution, imprisoned, and wrote books using charcoal while being alone at the bottom of a well – remained at the back of my mind. And thus, I conceived a deep respect for Ibn Taymiyyah, and I thought that one day I will be able to understand his writings, particularly the thin white book which intrigued me for a time I could hardly remember anymore.

When I was at one of the lowest points of finding meaning on to life while going through very tough trials, I tried to read the book, hoping to find enlightenment to the heavy burdens I was carrying in my mind and soul. I was told by my parents that the book is a must-read and it carries with it a very concise message about the concept of slavery. As it turned out, it was not exactly how I thought it would be. It was not about people working as slaves in the literal sense of the word. It was about slavery to God.

Al Ubudiyyah is written in a very straightforward manner as was characteristic of Ibn Taymiyyah’s writings. The verses of the Qur’an and the Hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) are elegantly integrated on the deductions of his insights. Reading the work, one can easily understand and connect with the message. It was from this book that my subsequent study and viewpoints are heavily influenced and drawn from.

It can be said that Ibn Taymiyyah is a polemicist and a very controversial figure during his time and until the present. He had many contributions in the field of Islamic scholarship, but due to his influence, and works on refutation, he earned many critics as well. But by becoming familiar with the background which he came from and the political and religious climate that had developed during his time, one can understand the reason why his work took on a polemical style.

He came from a family of religious scholars and was educated and mastered many of the Islamic sciences at a very early age. Eventually, he was qualified to issue religious verdicts (Fatawa) at the age of nineteen. He sought to establish certainty on the matters of religious creed (Aqeedah) at a time when various schools of thought, groups, and sects emerged wherein alien influences and innovations in religious teachings and practices appeared threatening the stability and unity of the Islamic world. He became famous for his knowledge of Hadith, and his knowledge of the Qur’an and its related sciences. He also attained expertise on Usul al-Fiqh and Fiqh, knowledge of the differences of opinions present among scholars, writing, mathematics, history, astronomy and medicine. One of his students, Ibn al Qayyim said,

Allah knows, I have never seen anyone who had a better life than his. Despite the difficulties and all that expunges comfort and luxury, nay, things completely opposite to them; despite imprisonment, intimidation and oppression, Ibn Taymiyyah had a purer life than anyone could. He was the most generous, the strongest of heart and the most joyful of souls, with the radiance of bliss in his face. When we were seized with fear and our thoughts turned negative, and the earth grew narrow for us, we would go to him. No sooner did we look at him and hear his words, all these feelings would leave us to be replaced by relief, strength, certainty and tranquility. 1

Al Ubudiyyah draws its main theme on the first and foremost pillar of Islam: that there is no god but Allah (La ilaha illallah) – Tawheed, and in perfecting ones purpose of creation, which is worship (Ibadah). That the whole of life is meant for worship of Allah with submission and love, sincerity (Ikhlas), and everything intended solely for His sake.

The following are some of the passages from the book that struck me the most, and which changed the way I understand Islam, worship, slavery, submission and love:

For knowing the right and being too arrogant to accept it is a great torture to man…

So anyone who recognizes this truth and professes it but does not fulfill the religious reality which is the worship of God and obedience to Him and His messenger, – would be of the same kind as Iblis (Satan) and Hell dwellers…

If anyone thought that he is among the elite and among the people of religious knowledge and realization who think that God’s orders are cancelled concerning themselves he would therefore be among the worst rejecters and atheists…

If this is comprehended, then the perfection of a creature is in achieving his slavery to God. The better he achieves this slavery, the most perfect he will be. Those who think that a creature can get rid of this slavery in any respect or think that getting out of it is more perfect, are the most ignorant creatures, nay the most misled ones…

The more a servant is hopeful of the bounty of God to fulfill his necessities, the stronger will his freedom from the others will be…

Whoever interests his heart in the creatures for giving him aid and guidance will get his heart submitted to them even if seemingly, he is the chief who manages matters for them; but a wise man sees the truths not the appearances… Nay! The imprisonment of the heart is much more serious than that of the body; for he whose body is enslaved and imprisoned, would not care if his heart is at rest. But if the heart, which is the king of the body, is enslaved by, and fond of other things than God, this would be absolute enslavement, humiliation, imprisonment, and submitting slavery to what enthralled the heart…

We also see that anyone who craves for chief positions has a heart which may bow to any people who help him reach the position, though he might seem to be their boss, where in fact he is looking for their benefits, and being aware of their evils, he spends on them, grants them authorities, and forgives their mistakes so that they might obey and help him. Apparently, therefore, he is their indisputable master, whereas he is really an obedient slave to them…

God must be loved most by a slave and He must be the greatest of all in his sight. Nothing deserves love and complete submission except God. One who loves for the sake of anything other than God, his love is false

If your love for someone is not for God, that love is wrong, and if your reverence for someone is without order from Him, that reverence is wrong…2

God is the Lord of the Worlds, their Creator and Provident, the Giver of their life and death, the Controller of their hearts and the Dispenser of their affairs; there is no lord, no master, no creator other than He, whether they accept it and acknowledge it or not. Only the Believers among them know this truth and acknowledge it, whereas those who do not know or do not acknowledge this truth deny these realities with arrogance and refuse to submit to Him, even though they may know that He is their Lord and Creator…3

 

Bibliography:
1. Diseases of the Hearts and Their Cures. Shaykh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah trans. Abu Rumaysah. Birmingham. Dar us-Sunnah Publishers.

2. Slavery. Ibn Taimieh. Beirut, Lebanon. Al Maktab Al-Islam.

3.Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam: Selected Writings of Shaykh al-Islam Taqi ad-Din Ibn Taymiyyah on Islamic Faith, Life, and Society. (2000). Compiled and translated by Muhammad ‘Abdul-Haqq Ansari. Al Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University Imadat Al-Bahth Al-‘Ilmi, Riyadh, KSA. Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America.

 

Perception

Perception (pǝr sepʹshǝn) n.

  1. that which is perceived.
  2. result or product of perceiving.
  3. awareness, insight, or information gained by perceiving.
  4. faculty of perceiving.

[Latin perceptiō collecting, comprehending.]

Perceive (pǝr sēvʹ) -ceived, -ceiving. v.t.        

  1. to become aware of through the senses; see, hear, taste, smell, or feel.
  2. to take in or grasp mentally; comprehend.

[Old French percevoir, from Latin percipere to take possession of, observe.]

– Colliers Dictionary, Vol. 2

Perception. What is it exactly? And what role does it play and what is its impact on us, the events of our lives, in the lives of others, and the outcome of our existence?

As a starting point, we need to define it operationally. The first word is Perception. It appears to be an abstract concept, an intangible innate faculty and ability. And the second is Perceive, which, based from the definition, is an action that leads to Perception. Perceiving is the action and process, while Perception is the outcome or result. The action of Perceiving thus results to running the faculty of Perception.

The first step in the process of perceiving is through the biological senses. All living things are endowed with the ability to use their senses according to their natural makeup, in responding to their outer environment and within their bodies. Science and Divine Revelation had explained how living things use their senses and the varied ways with which their senses help them in their development throughout life and in adapting to their environment.

Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread? Each known his own prayer and exalting [Him], and Allah is Knowing of what they do.

– Qur’an (Surah An-Nur 41)
It is He, Who has created for you (the sense of) hearing (ears), sight (eyes), and hearts (understanding). Little thanks you give. –  Qur’an (Surah Al Mu’minūn 78)

The second step is taking in what is perceived by the senses through mental comprehension. This involves a much more complex process because it involves the mind: the interplaying of the basic senses (which all living things collectively share) between the abstract concepts/constructs that the brain uses in interpreting what the senses bring to the body, and then how will the being respond and take action to those messages.

The way the living being will respond will depend on how it is especially and naturally structured by the Creator. The more complex the being, the greater responsibility it has on its environment, the more abstract and nuanced will its response be in comprehending, understanding and taking action in what is being demanded of it. Thus, Perception as a result, Perceiving as a process – even if their initial courses seem to be very simple to understand, have deeper implications if they are to be taken in the context of understanding our condition as human beings.

To regard the variety of stimuli that we receive from our environment, in addition to the inner interpretations of our minds on how those outside factors influence us, our lives and those of others, our conditions, our faith, the responsibilities that we have to take, and in facing the inevitable destinies which await us in the end is something that we have to think about and understand.

It is noteworthy to take this subsequent perspective into consideration:

In philosophy (and psychology) the word perception is often used in a technical way. It means the sensory acquisition of knowledge. If knowledge of what is sensed is absent, then in technical sense there is no perception of the object. Since we do not recognize everything we see or always identify the things we see, hear, and touch, this means that we do not perceive everything we see, hear and touch. If one sees a man at a great distance, for example, and fails to realize that he is a man, fails to see that he is a man, taking him for a bush or a tree instead, then one has not perceived a man (though one has seen a man). This difference between sensing an object and perceiving an object is important because certain skeptical arguments, directed against the possibility of our perceiving material objects is irrelevant to the question of whether we see, hear, and touch them. Men suffer hallucinations, are misled by illusions, and sometimes mistake their own mental images for physical reality. What appears to us by means of our senses is no certain guide to the nature of the objective fact, and since we are restricted in these matters to what our senses indicate, the skeptic concludes that one can never be sure that things really are the way our senses lead us to believe. If these skeptical arguments are correct, it follows that we never perceive physical objects because our senses are unable to provide us with the knowledge that perception requires. It should be noted, however, that these skeptical arguments, even if correct, do not show that we never see or touch objects; for seeing and touching an object, unlike perceiving one, does not require the sort of knowledge that is here in question. Nevertheless, common sense seems committed to the view that we can discover things about our physical surroundings. We can come to know what things are, and where things are, by perceptual means. In short, the common view is that the skeptical arguments become particularly relevant, and a variety of philosophical theories have evolved in response to the skeptical position.

– Fred Dretske, Perception, Philosophy of

In the process of learning new things, one has to still be firmly rooted and strong in ones faith. Faith in the mind and heart is the strongest criterion of judgment. It is where we base what is right and what is wrong, the essential values and precepts of life. Because no matter how informed or varied or diverse the thoughts and information that surround us, the primary, the primordial nature of every human being remains intact even at the level of forgetting or unconsciousness. We have ability to discern and judge accordingly – that is the nature implanted to us by the Creator. We may sometimes be surrounded by an environment that alters or corrupts that nature, but when the light of faith and guidance is illuminated and shown to us by our Creator, we can move past through all the distractions and ideas that blocked or blocks our truest, innate nature – the Fitrah. Responding to the Fitrah does not mean that one has to be narrow-minded, on the contrary it broadens ones way of thinking. But how? By using our own judgment aided by the guidance of Divine Revelation, one becomes aware of the nature of what makes a thing good or bad, its causes and ends. It becomes an interplay of reason, perception and intuition, and thus one can choose the proper course of action.

Perception is very complex and intricate. Because it is the basis of our thinking and action. Each person has a different way of perceiving – visually and then mentally. And although each of us responds to the Fitrah endowed to us by our Creator, we have varied ways of perceiving. Even our faith can be heavily influenced by our own perception. How we think about our Creator, how we respond to the events and trials in life, how do we look within ourselves and the personal trials we have to battle everyday, and then the courses of action that we take are also influenced by our perception and understanding at any particular situation. It is amazing to reflect how complex our minds work – how the Creator, Allah The Exalted had designed our brains, that looking from the outside, it looks like a clump of jumbled veins, but how it works, how it understands and perceives from one human being to another is beyond what I, as a human being as well, can possibly imagine.

Perception can also be a means of taking us to our destined fate. It is through the perception of a person that Allah, The Exalted guides a person – when He opens the mind and heart of a person to the fold of Islam. It is through perception that He takes away that guidance and thus a person is lead astray – when a person chooses to close his eyes, his heart, his ears, his mind – to the countless signs in the universe, leading to guidance that the Creator had shown him. It is through perception that faith and awareness of God is strengthened. Our perceiving of Allah, The Exalted, enables us to choose and then act accordingly: either we obey His commands out of our love, devotion and gratitude to Him, or disobey Him out of our personal weaknesses, preferences, pride, or rebellion.

Perception, thus is a manifestation of freedom and choice, an interplay of our psychological make-up and a response to the Fitrah – the primordial nature – given to us by our Creator. It becomes a reference point of our faith and eventually of the courses of action that we choose to take, a basis of our accountability both in this present worldly life and the life that is yet to come, it is a manifestation of the grace of our Creator, a means of rejection or acceptance of His guidance.

Signs to Reflect

“Allah has created every moving (living) creature from water. Of them are some that creep on their bellies, and some that walk on two legs, and some that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills. Verily, Allah is Able to do all things.” (Qur’an 24:45)
I can’t believe that after I read this verse from the Noble Qur’an that I can’t help but find tears in my eyes. Seldom do I get truly affected when I read, but these words left a great impact. I felt like God was directly talking to me. These were very simple words which are easy to understand, but to fully comprehend the wisdom behind these words and feel them with ones own heart is one of the most beautiful things that ever happened to me. It seemed that all the heaviness that I carry on my chest is slowly being removed away. Tears fell and I cried with all my heart. This verse tells us how Wise and Compassionate our Creator is, that from this substance called ‘water’ He can create many different creatures. Some are small, some are big, and all of them have their own unique forms and characteristics. How amazing the Power of Allah is! He is Able to do all things!
When all of us are so drawn away from all the affairs of our worldly lives, Allah’s Wisdom and Compassion is able to reach even the other creations which we do not even take time to notice, and most of the time we take for granted.
No human being can create even a small worm creeping on its belly, out of water. But Allah emphasized that even a small worm has its own merit and that ‘Allah does not ignore even a small worm.’ No matter how intelligent and brilliant a human being is, no matter what kind of success he had achieved in his life, he cannot create even a small worm, out of water.
We are very busy with all the things that we work hard for but do we take the time to reflect on the many signs that Allah, our Creator, is showing us? Do we show Him our gratitude and do we obey His commands? Are we even aware that our life in this world is temporary and one day we will die? Of what use is our intelligence, hard work and perseverance if we are ungrateful, arrogant, and do not recognize our very own Creator? And when our time comes, are we prepared to face Him for fulfilling the purpose for which He created us, which is to worship Him, alone? Or had we spent our time in this world just to enjoy and fulfill what we personally like?
“And the life of this world is nothing but play and amusement. But far better is the house in the Hereafter for those who are Al Muttaqun (the pious). Will you not then understand?” (Qur’an 6:32)
Allah’s Mercy and Knowledge reaches all, even to the tiniest creature, or to the tiniest particle in the universe. He is All Aware of His creation and in His Infinite Power, He is Able to maintain the order of the vast and wide universe and prevent its destruction until the appointed time.
“See you not that Allah, He it is Whom glorify whosoever is in the heavens and the earth, and the birds with wings out-stretched (in their flight)? …” (Qur’an 24:41)
And as these words were read silently on my heart, I heard the chirp of the birds outside my window. The tears flowed again on my eyes. As these words were being told to me, the birds outside my window testify to their truth. Who else lets these birds flying in the sky with all their wings outstretched in flight except Allah? Is there any human being who directs the lives, flight, the chirping, and the direction of these birds? No human being can do that. And these birds with their outstretched wings in flight, glorify Allah, their Creator, fulfilling the purpose for which He created them. All the creation of the heavens and the earth is a proof for mankind to learn a lesson and know that the only Creator and the only Organizer of this entire universe is One (Allah).
“And we created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them for a (mere) play.” (Qur’an 21:16)
We are all given by God with free will, sufficient intelligence and abilities. Along with these gifts, lies a mission to undertake. Our life in this world is not a mere chance or a coincidence, but with a definite purpose. People had been searching for this purpose since a very long time, asking questions and making many theories and fields of inquiry. But we are not left by God to search for this purpose in vain, because He had given us a complete and concrete guidance. He had revealed in His final book, the Noble Qur’an the purpose for which He created us, so we no longer need to stretch our necks and backs just to know what the truth is.
“And I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone).” (Qur’an 51:56)