Thursday, April 16, 2015

Finding Guidance in a world of Confusion

[Note: This is an edited version of our presentation at the monthly spirituality session at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. Initially this was to be shared on video, but the recording failed half way into the presentation.]

When looking at life today, we find that almost everything is in a state of chaos, instability is the new normal. Attitudes, morals, public policies, all of them are up for grabs. "Facts" or values upheld as recently as fifty years ago are not under review worldwide.  In the religious world, this is also a problem, and confusion abounds. It can be argued that this is a greater problem for Christians than for any other religious community. Thus, under the slogans of Love, Forgiveness and Acceptance, support for everything under the sun is given, and religion ends up becoming nothing more than a label, a uniform  put on during the holidays, making religion a thing that has lost all value. Thus, we have here the basic foundation of confusion, translating into becoming lost, misguided and easily manipulated.

Allah [God, the most high] says in the Qur'an

If you obey most of those in the land, they will mislead you from the path of Allah. They [themselves] follow conjecture [Dhann], and are themselves nothing but a presumptuous lot." [Q 6:116]

We have two important phrases in this ayah. Dhann [conjecture] and yakhrusoon [root being kharasa], the latter carries, among its meanings, to have or to follow opinions without proof. It can also mean lying. So, giving obedience to lies.

Therefore, to be prepared to receive guidance, there has to be a willingness to pursue what is right. That means thinking deeply. Pondering, study, research. Guidance is NOT dictated by emotions, nor by the whims of the majority. Sociologists have long warned us of a mob mentality. The mob mentality manifests itself in obvious terms when a group of people assault or even kill a single person, but having or following the mob mentality is something preached to us on a daily basis through Television, Music, Movies, Politicians and even Social Media.  We have to be willing to accept that guidance may not always be seen or recognized by a majority.

Indeed, the Qur'an often tells us that those rejecting the Prophets of God would do so under the banner of following family or societal traditions [ among some examples, see Q 5:104 and 2:170].

Returning to conjecture, Dhann in Arabic, we also read in the Qur'an
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ
O Believers. avoid much conjecture, verily, sometimes conjecture is sinful. [Q 49:12].So we learn from this statement that conjecture, be it about religion or even other human beings, can be harmful. Islamophobes have fears based on conjecture. Thus, to many, a women wearing a head scarf is automatically oppressed, even if she's college educated. 

So strive hard to find truth, rather than having assumptions, because that is the gateway to receiving correct information.

Some other practical steps

Don't be lazy Muslims. Be connected to the Qur'an, consult it often. Use its verses in your prayers, have a stronger tie to it than you have to your favorite Television shows, Football teams and the like.

Be connected to people of knowledge, and to the Muslim community.

Don't let egos, jealousy, get in the way of your spiritual progression. A good practice is the regular recitation of the last two Quranic chapters [Al Falaq and An-Naas] because it can serve as a sort of spiritual protection, from other's bad intentions but also from developing those bad characteristics in one's own self.

In Islam, when we pray in congregation [Jamaa'ah] we do so standing closely to one another. The Imam is reciting texts [from  the Qur'an] that are universally accessible. The praying with others can create bonds that will overcome those bad characteristics, and it creates humility. 

In prayer, we say with every movement Allahu Akbar, God is the greatest, meaning God is bigger or more important than anything else. We proclaim his might and power in the bowing and prostrations. The Black and the White, the rich or poor, all are taught to proclaim the Divine power and thus, the fact we cannot be compared to him. We belong to God, to him is our return, and even our religion is to be for him! 

What about the actions of others?

If we are capable, we should always share whatever the truth is, especially on religious matters, but we can't force it on people. 

وَمَا جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظًا وَمَا أَنتَ عَلَيْهِم بِوَكِيلٍ

"And We have not made you [O Muhammad] a keeper over them, nor have you been made in charge of their affairs. [6:107]

So if we have tools for others to use in their search for guidance, we do share them freely. The doctor can write the prescription, but in the end, it is the patient's responsibility to take the medicine as prescribed.

Guidance does not require force.

Personal guidance vs communal enlightenment

For me, I am a Muslim who is firmly convinced that Islam is the perfected manifestation of the Divine Truth. I am willing to share its teachings on God-concept, spirituality, prophetic history and narrative.

But there's more to this. As a species, humans need guidance too, and that guidance is present within Islam.Guidance that all humans can benefit from, even disbelievers. Islamic teachings on economy, on race, on nationalism, ethical code, family, all of these [ and more] are required for life in today's world. These teachings need to be studied and applied in a comprehensive way. That application will be the best type of propagating, and will provide a worldly salvation for mankind.