Wednesday, June 03, 2020
Imam Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī in his magnum opus, Ihya Ulum al-Din, supports a series of searching recommendations that I would have, regretfully, scoffed at many years ago when starting in the world of Islamic activism. Yet at the same time, I was ready to quote al-Ghazzālī when his statements accorded with my worldview.
But study, time and events have enabled me to realise that his central recommendation in his chapter on knowledge, to discipline the soul, is one of the most important personal duties of any Muslim that seek to engender a social or political change. Like the public debaters al-Ghazzālī encountered at his time and whose number al-Ghazzālī once belonged, those that gain prominence through public activism are trialled by a host of negative traits, which if not recognised and addressed, can lead one to troubling places.
I would highly recommend that all Muslims, especially young Muslims, embark upon an in-depth study of his Ihya in its broader work and find a means to set up mechanisms for ongoing personal self-reflection and correction.
In this regard, good companionship is key. If your peer group only consists of brash people; that criticize and knit-pick, have a disdain for Muslims that do not share your worldview, deny the need for self-reflection and are used to backbiting then inevitably you will be a party to the acquisition of these traits. Sadly, I observe too many young brothers that come to Islam with sincerity, yet the many negative effects of activism obscure their minds and muddy their priorities.
This is not to deny the enormous social and political change that is required today and young people are key to producing the creativity that is sorely needed in the Islamic da’wa space. But with any attempt to make change externally, there must be a carefully thought out project to create an internal transformation. Unfortunately, many activist outfits prioritise the former but give scant attention to the latter. As a result, their people often do more harm than good, contributing to divisiveness in our community that polarises an already fractious landscape. One such example is how these activists are quick to pick up on faults of others, especially scholars, often based on interpretations of interpretations yet are ready to give their own leaderships and scholars a free pass. Husn udh-Dhann only applies to the ‘righteous’.
Part of the problem is how, to convince the young to a cause, the recruiters attach exceptionalism to their groups. One is part of an association that is inspired by a prophetic work and emulates the path of the Sahabah. Their elders are lionized, and a myth surrounds the social movement to the degree that the good works of others become the subject of disdain and even pity. Instead of seeing their work as part of a patchwork of activities that help elevate the ummah, they attach an exaggerated status to their efforts. At a time where unity is in short supply, they sow discord.
Islamic activism of its various kinds is required, but the dangers that come from it must also be understood and addressed through a serious programme of development that utilises the breadth of past Islam scholarship.
Here are some pertinent remarks from al-Ghazzālī
On disciplining the self
If you are longing for the hereafter, seeking salvation and flight from eternal damnation, then pursue the science of inward diseases and their remedies… that’s because once the heart is cleansed from what is blameworthy, it is filled with that which is praiseworthy. Just as the soil where all kinds of plants and flowers would grow as soon as the grass is weeded out. Without this removal, no plants nor flowers would germinate.
On focusing on others without first looking at yourself
He who would spend time in pursuing what would reform others (before he reforms himself) is weak-minded. How foolish is the man?
On the rotten heart
It should be known that he whose heart is saturated with anger, greed, indulgence, and readiness to slander people is a beast as far as its content is concerned, although in a form of a human being.
On the negative traits that develop in the debaters
…It should be known with certainty that debates are devised to overcome and silence an opponent as well as for displaying one’s excellence and honour, big-headedness in the sight of people, boasting, showing off, or attracting the elite. These are the main sources of all blameworthy traits in the Sight of Allah and praiseworthy in the sight of Satan, His avowed enemy.
On picking up on faults of others as a means to debate
People should safeguard themselves against lies and against those stories which point to trivial faults and compromises which the public fail to understand or fail to observe that they are nothing but rare and slight faults being followed by atonements and rectified by good deeds that are supposed to cover them up.
On shortcuts to gaining a following
But as long as prestige requires a following then nothing attracts a following better than bigotry, cursing and slandering opponents. They have adopted fanaticism as their rule of conduct and their method of approach and call it a defence of religion and protection for the Muslims, even though it leads to nothing but the destruction of all people.
On seeking the truth from your adversary
A debater should seek after the truth in the same way as he is searching for a lost thing and it is the same to him, whether the truth appears at his hand, or at the hands of anyone who helps him. He regards his companion as a helpful friend and not as an adversary and gives thanks to him in case he drives him to a mistake and shows the truth to him. His example is like the one who follows a particular path in search of his lost possession. His companion draws his attention to the fact that his lost thing is on another way, which he should follow to find it. In this case, he should not criticize him as much as he should appreciate his deed, honour him and rejoice with him.
On the emptiness of the debaters
Consider the debaters of your time now, how the colour of the face of anyone of them would grow black (out of grief) if the truth becomes clear on the tongue of his opponent. How he would disregard it and exert his utmost effort to refute it and how he would criticise for a lifetime the one who has silenced him.
On how Shaytaan leads the debaters astray
Just as the person who has been given the free will to choose between intoxication and the other sins, regards the intoxication as the slightest [sin] which he took up, only to be led by his intoxication into committing all the other sins. So is he who surrenders to the love of overcoming and silencing opponents in debate, falls victim of the desire for power and boasting.
The debater keeps eating the flesh of the dead, as shown from his secondary reporting of the speech of his adversary, in an attempt to traduce him. As far as he is eager to be truthful in relating his speech, he is mainly concerned with the portions of his speech which show only the points of weakness of his arguments, and the inferiority of his excellence; and this is backbiting, while lying is sheer calumny.
On attacking your opponent
The debater could not keep his tongue from dishonouring anyone who turns away from him and that listens to his opponent. He would even ascribe to him the labels of ignorance, foolishness, lack of understanding, and stupidity.
Hypocrisy also is one of those blameworthy traits, and there is no need for evidence to criticise and condemn it. Nevertheless, they need it in their debates, for when they meet their adversaries, lovers and devotees, they could find no way but to make themselves lovable to them by good speech and showing longing for them and high estimation for their positions and lives.
They show love to each other only with their tongues, even though mutual hatred lurks in their hearts.
These are just some select quotations from the great scholar, Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī in his chapter (quarter) on knowledge.
Politics lecturer, London. Host of The Thinking Muslim Podcast
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Photographs and videos on social media have highlighted the shocking acts being carried out by Hindu extremists as their mobs beat unarmed men with sticks, iron rods and stones.
Yesterday, in the capital a mosque was set on fire as violent protests continued to take place across the city. The death toll has increased to 21 and nearly 200 injured.
On Tuesday, in the Ashok Nagar area of the capital a violent mob shouted the Hindu slogan “Jai Shri Ram” – a slogan that praises a Hindu ‘deity’. The mob paraded around the mosque as it was being burnt down. 
Chilling footage went viral on social media showing the violent mob climbing the minaret of the mosque where they attempt to plant a saffron flag. Shops in the area have also been targeted by the mob.
Police imposed a restriction on large gatherings in northeast Delhi as reports emerged of stone-pelting and more structures being set ablaze.
The medical superintendent of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Sunil Kumar, has said that 13 people have died in the violence.
A student from a riot-hit area said that: “Since yesterday, we’ve been calling the police to enforce a curfew, to send reinforcements,”
Senior police officer, Anil Mittal said that around 150 people were injured in the violence that started as US President Donald Trump arrived on his two-day trip to India.
“Some of the people brought in had gunshot wounds,”
India’s Murder Cry: “Jai Shri Ram”
These incidents are not the first of its kind. In the past, footage emerged of a 22-year-old Muslim being “mercilessly beaten” and killed by a mob who had tied him to a tree and forced him to chant slogans praising two Hindu ‘deities’. 
Other reports include Muslim youth and students being attacked, a Hindu ‘extremist’ mob chanting outside a mosque and threatening to attack it, and a 40-year-old Imām being rammed by a car, all in the name of the same Hindu ‘deity’.   
These cases make it evident that this Hindu slogan, which had traditionally been used as a Hindu greeting, is one that is now used to “intimidate” those who worship differently, with Muslims appearing to be a main target. With Modi’s landslide victory in achieving a second term as India’s prime minister, it appears that Hindu ‘extremist’ mobs have used it as motivation to continue their torturing ways.
Under Modi’s rule in the past, the country had seen a rise in ‘extremist’ killings of Muslims. In 2002, for example, he reportedly allowed Hindu mobs to “vent their anger” with anti-Muslim riots during his rule in Gujarat – riots that killed 1,000 people in the process. 
Furthermore, after Modi became prime minister in 2014, the country saw a rise in what has been referred to as “cow vigilantism”. This is a term that is given to the violent and hateful Hindu mobs who target and kill human beings in the name of the cow, in which they consider a deity.
In 2018, the way in which the police handled 28-year-old Akbar Khan’s death highlighted how the country’s state and institutions had become “part of the mob”. 
The BBC reported a 48-year-old Muslim food stall owner had been forced to eat pork by Hindus who had disagreed with the selling of beef curry. The stall owner, Mr Ali, labelled it as an “attack” on his faith. 
These incidents have led to Muslims in India living in fear under Modi’s second term. With a prime minister who seemingly gives way for the ‘extremist’ attacks of those who worship differently from the Hindu majority, and even rules a party that refuses to give amnesty to Bangladeshi Muslims – despite promising amnesty for other religions – one could ask whether those fears are slowly becoming the reality.
May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) protect the Muslims of India under Modi’s rule. Āmīn.