Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Why Calling Someone "Religious" is Problematic

  We've all used it before; the sacred "R" word.

   Used to classify people into two broad groups, depending on the intention and whom we are speaking to; and is almost never used when we are talking about someone similar to ourselves. One group comprises the holy sheikh(a) or imaam imagery - with a beard or higab, modest apparel and their constant reminders of the deen to others. This group is seen as "practicing" and can be associated with positive adjectives to describe them as guiding angels whom we would like to consider the sisters "like our mothers" and so forth. Some of us look up to them and see them as untouched beings with a raised status to an unattainable position; whereby no matter how hard we work on becoming close to these folks in character, we are bound to fail because of their years of experience and knowledge in Islam and our deterministic past and shameful history, not to mention the way they can dare to dress differently and own it.

     And then there's a slightly different association; one that involves themes of rigidity, bigotry, extremism and savagery. This can be seen in the most subtle of ways and will not be expressed directly by the user. This association is made by some who perceive themselves of those who highly value science and technology and the advancement of culture and cannot fathom or accept the merging of religion and modernity. These are not atheist per se, but those who see religion as a flexible and practical belief, rather than a solid book of basic standards. These same folk may consider themselves to be the "right" Muslims and with that belief they placed an imaginary line between them and other Muslims whom they believe do not fit their category. This is unrelated to sects in Islam, but I mean to shed light on our hidden intentions of our use of the word "religious" to describe somebody.

     Now, what is the problem with these associations if they are correct, you may ask? Well, the first issue is our cocky confidence in that they are. Our inability to relinquish control over the boxes which we've placed other people in leads ourselves to become the opposite of what we preach for others to avoid becoming; rigid and downright judgmental. We become extremely confident of our judgement - so much so we cannot accept a member we've placed in one category to fit into another. If a "moderate" Muslim begins wearing the higab or donning a beard, they are not being themselves, and we see them as being hypocrites; all while we watch them and remain stationary - having full satisfaction that the way we perceive our religion is the most righteous. On the other hand, when we look up to a person for their Deen, we forgive their mistakes more easily - or scrutinize and analyze them - and we grant them bigger and better opportunities at being leaders of the faith in our communities; all while forgetting ourselves and widening the gap between us and themselves. We must remember that Islam has only truly taken form in a person in the case of the prophet muhammed (peace be upon him); when we label others as "religious", we let them become our ambassadors of Islam and therefore their shortcomings can become an excuse for some to stay away from bettering their deen. They say:"look at what religion does, how can I follow in their footsteps?" We must never compare our deen to others and we must look upon our character as a constant work in progress. If Allah (swt) can forgive the biggest of sins, then why don't we begin by forgiving ourselves and following through and believing His promise? Ultimately, we will be judged by Allah (swt) in front of all His creations for our true actions and intentions, so look forward to that and don't hesitate to make those changes in your life to please Him and Him only.

     When we judge others for what we perceive is in their hearts, we hand over control and omniscience to ourselves and not our Lord- an illusion of it that is. We are indirectly expressing to Allah (swt) that we are just as capable or even more so than Him -istagfarallah- at figuring people out. We've also indirectly stated to the world how much of our time  is spent thinking about the business of others rather than our own selves. For wallahi, if each of us was to carry on looking inwards instead of out at others, we would find no time and no energy to place on anyone but ourselves. Keeping a critical eye and mind on others is also keeping a critical eye and mind away from ourselves. 

     Shirk is often seen as polytheism and nothing more. Yet, we fail to realize that our ego can oftentimes be worshiped and followed as a deity and perceived in the same manner. We must always practice modesty, humility and self-reflection in order to improve our deen. If you feel comfortable comparing yourself to the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) in character, then go ahead and judge others. But you won't be I'm sure; and even the prophet (peace be upon him) himself told us to leave judging the contents of other's hearts to Allah (swt) and even in situations where he knew the ill intentions of those in front of him (from Allah), he was asked to be fair and to treat them based on their outwardly manner.

      Abu Ma'bad al-Miqdad ibn al-Aswad said, "I asked the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, 'What do you think if I meet a man of the unbelievers and we fight and he strikes one of my hands with his sword and cuts it off and then takes shelter from me behind a tree and says, "I have surrendered to Allah." Should I kill him, Messenger of Allah, after he has said that?' He said, 'Do not kill him.' I said, 'Messenger of Allah, he cut off one of my hands and then said it after he cut it off!' He said, 'Do not kill him. If you kill him, then he is in the position you were in before you killed him and you are in the position he was in before he said the words he said.'" [Agreed upon]

     Usama ibn Zayd said, "The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, sent us to al-Huraqa, a sub-tribe of Juhayna, and we came upon the people in the morning at their springs. A man of the Ansar and I overtook one of their men. When we descended on him, he said, 'There is no god but Allah.' The Ansari held back from him, but I stabbed him with my spear until I had killed him. When we arrived in Madina, that reached the Prophet and he said, 'O Usama, did you kill him after he had said, "There is no god but Allah"?' I said, 'Messenger of Allah, he was only trying to save himself.' He said, 'Did you kill him after he had said, "There is no god but Allah"?' He continued to repeat it to me until I wished that I had not become Muslim until that day." [Agreed upon]

     In one variant, "The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'Did he say, "There is no god but Allah" and yet you still killed him?' I said, 'Messenger of Allah, he only said it out of fear of our weapons.' He said, 'Did you then split open his heart so that you know whether he truly meant it when he said it or not?' He continued to repeat it until I wished that I had only become Muslim on that day." [Agreed upom]

   Another valuable source to gain insight on judgement of character are the Sahabas (RA) whom after the passing of the prophet (peace be upon him), were left with no indication of the intentions of others from Allah. To understand the way they lived their days sheds light on the manner in which they were harsh on themselves and their own intentions first and foremost, and how they struggled to match up to the prophet (peace be upon him). If his companions struggled, then how are we so comfortable?

'Abdullah ibn 'Utba ibn Mas'ud reported that he heard 'Umar ibn al-Khattab say, "Some people were dealt with by the revelation in the time of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. The revelation has ceased. Now we deal with you according to what is clear to us from your actions. If anyone shows us good, we trust him and honour him. We know nothing of his inward. Allah will call him to reckoning in respect of his inward. If anyone shows us evil, we do not trust him and do not believe him, even if he says that his inward is good." [al-Bukhari]

   During the prophet's (peace be upon him) time, there was one man who used to appear drunk to the public in the daytime and the companions at one point wanted to issue him a punishment. The prophet (peace be upon him) addressed them and said "Do not curse him, for I swear by Allah, if you only knew just how very much indeed he loves Allah and His Messenger." 

He then added:
"Do not help Satan against your brother."(Al-Bukhari)

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