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The World Gets Topsy-Turvier: Signs of the End Days [2/2]

salvador-dali-swans-reflecting-elephants-1345978791_orgOne of the main themes that runs through hadiths about the End Days is how good will be considered as being bad; and visa versa, how trustworthiness and honesty shall disappear, how the worthless will be raised to positions of rank and respect, and how there will be an increase in disobedience and widespread violation of rights (kathrat al-‘uquq wa ida‘at al-huquq). Rights that firmly belong to some shall be denied them, and instead be given to others. This inversion of rights and reality, perhaps more than anything else, is what characterises the fated end times. And it is this topsy-turviness of the times, and the ensuing spiritual and social turmoil, that I wish to discuss in the second and final part of this blog. After quoting a volley of hadiths that describe the state of affairs that heralds the end days and final Hour, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said: ‘All this is part of the inversion of realities during the end days and the topsy-turviness of affairs.’1

In what is to follow, one point must be kept firmly in our minds: Even though many negative things will eventually come to pass, we are each called upon to swim against the tide and work against the inevitable decay. In the words of the venerable Shaykh, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, it is a case of us each having to ‘fight against destiny’.

Having documented several of the signs of the Hour (ashrat al-sa‘ah) in Part I of this blog piece, let us now turn to those hadiths that specifically talk about things being turned on their head; how reality will be inverted and the world made topsy-turvy:

1. The first hadith to qualify for this genre has got to be: ‘When the affair is given to other than its rightful people, then await the Final Hour (idha wussida’l-amr ila ghayri ahlihi fantazari’l-sa‘ah).2 Al-Munawi explains that when matters such as the caliphate, governance, teaching religion or the issuing of fatwas are in the hands of those who are undeserving, unsuited and unqualified for such Herculean tasks, then this signals the coming of the Hour. Why? Because such an inversion of affairs can only happen when Islam becomes weak and neglected, ignorance has conquered minds and hearts, sacred knowledge has markedly diminished in society, egos and desires rule the roost, and the people of knowledge and wisdom are unable to establish the truth or support it.3 When religious and spiritual anarchy prevail at such levels in society, where in the land of the blind the one eyed man is comfortably king and the minds of the masses comfortably numb, how can such a state of affairs not foreshadow the approaching of the Hour? Regrettably, this rot continues to fester and secrete itself into the collective Muslim psyche and social fabric; and Allah’s aid is sought.

The remedy against this malaise is to not be pretentious, sincerely remember our own levels and conduct ourselves in a way that befits a believer. The crux of this all is that we avoid meddling in matters that do not concern us, or for which we are unqualified or inexperienced – especially when it comes to matters related to sacred knowledge. For unless one has been sufficiently nurtured at the hands of wise, qualified, seasoned and compassionate teachers, and has their permission and blessing to enter into such matters, we are likely to find that we will bring about far more corruption than good, as well as be a terrible nuisance to knowledge and its people. Imam Ibn Hazm wrote: ‘There is nothing more harmful to knowledge and its people than those who enter into it, yet are not from it. They are ignorant, but think they are knowledgeable; they cause corruption while they think they are rectifying matters.’4 The prophetic caution has been issued, it’s now up to each of us to take heed.

2. The Prophet, peace be upon him, once foretold: ‘Indeed from the signs of the Hour is that the virtuous shall be demeaned and the wicked elevated.’5 It is difficult to see how virtuous people could be devalued, unless you first demote and demean morality and virtue itself. And yet this is precisely what has happened. For ours is an age (and it has been so for quite some time now) where the old certainties, and the morality that flowed from them, have been dealt a crushing blow. Although long in the making, the liberal revolution of the 1960s was the beginning of the end of England as a Christian country in terms of Christian ethics being reflected in law and Christian morals being the glue that bound society. Against the backdrop of the swinging sixties, the country witnessed a series of liberalising laws that would usher in the start of a Post-Christian milieu: suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961; and in 1967, abortion was legalised, as was homosexuality. Hereinafter there would be a parting of the ways for law and morality: the law would now intervene only to prevent individuals from harming each other. As for morality, it could no longer be thought of as the code for society. Instead, it would be relegated to an individual choice, and people would be free to indulge in whatever experiments in living they desired. Rights would soon replace responsibilities, desires would eventually trump duties and, by the 1990s, society would begin to significantly fray at the seams. There is no other choice for believers, driven as they must be by the healing lights of tawhid or Abrahamic monotheism, than to seek society’s redemption and moral restoration.

How much morality should be translated into law, and how much is to be left to the individual conscience, is a question which all civilised societies must grapple with. In Islam’s Sacred Law, ‘sins which involve injustice to others and injury to them, be it in the religious or worldly sense, are more severely punished in this world than those not entailing harm to others; despite the fact that the punishment for the latter may be greater in the Hereafter.’6 This is why, despite disobedience to parents being more morally wrong than, for instance, fornication, the shari‘ah has no fixed penalty for the former, but it does for the latter. Again, arrogance is a far greater sin than consuming alcohol; and yet there is no prescribed worldly punishment for the first, but there is for the second. ‘The reason is clear: such punishments are there to safeguard religious and worldly interests from the wrongdoing of wrongdoers, whereas the punishment of those who wrong only themselves is left to their Lord.’7

As the assault on traditional morality and virtue continues to intensify from, among other quarters, the media, movies and trash TV; and as more and more of the world is exposed to the mediocrity and moral bankruptcy of the monoculture and is gradually ‘normalised’ into it; we Muslims should be clear that ours is a religion of meritocracy. That is to say, in Islam people are valued, respected and held in high esteem according to their piety, virtue and merits. People of corrupt morals, or who lack basic adab and decency, or who wallow in self-inflicted ignorance of even the basic teachings of the faith – they may be looked upon with the eye of pity, tolerance and charity; but never with honour, distinction and approbation.

Those who have even a slight insight into the gravity of the Quranic message, or who recognise that the Sunnah came to elevate humankind and restore us to our Adamic dignity will, in all likelihood, find today’s crass (and oftentimes, vulgar and irreverent) celebrity culture more than a trifle troublesome. Surely ones ease with, or acceptance of, it simply reflects how much souls have become desensitised to virtue or how much hearts have cozied up to vice; doesn’t it?

This is why Islam puts great weight on al-amr bi’l-ma‘ruf wa’l-nahi ‘ani’l-munkar – the duty of “commanding good and forbiding wrong.” Allah, exalted is He, declares in the Qur’an: The believers, men and women, are allies one to another; they enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. [9:71] If we are to continue to recognise and honour people of virtue and piety, so as to be inspired by their conduct and be guided by their example, then we must collectively ensure that the lines between halal and haram, virtue and vice, and morality and immorality, are not blurred or made fuzzy. For if knowledge of what constitutes virtue and vice is lost to us; if Islamic morality is made subjective to the tastes and fashions of the times, and is no longer a rock firmly planted, we shall have brought about our rack and ruin in both worlds. Immense pressure is now being brought to bear upon Muslims to do precisely this. Ibn Mas‘ud, one of Islam’s earliest converts and one of its most illustrious scholars, once heard a person say: ‘Whoever doesn’t enjoin the good or forbid evil has perished.’ To which Ibn Mas‘ud responded: ‘Rather, one whose heart doesn’t recognises good from evil perishes.’8 These words become even more meaningful if we recall the following hadith: ‘Whoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; if he is unable to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.’9 If the heart no longer recognise evil, let alone detests it or seeks to change it, then what type of faith is there? For in all of this, it is faith that is at stake.

3. ‘Allah does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; rather He takes knowledge away by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who, when asked, give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’10 This hadith tells us about the public’s inability to reign in their haste and impulsiveness so as to patiently seek out qualified scholars from whom fatwas, religious rulings and guidance about the faith should be sought. Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know, is what the Qur’an says [16:43]. Things, however, have begun to be turned on their heads. Instead of the masses asking those who are qualified to give fatwas and have been schooled and authorised in fiqh, they have begun to ask any Tom, Dick or Harry, or the so-called “knowledgeable brother,” or even the now proverbial Shaykh Google! The upshot: they make the unworthy look worthy, treat the unqualified as qualified, and view the unschooled as schooled; with the ummah continuing to suffers at the hands of these imposter-muftis, cowboys da‘is and charlatan wannabe shaykhs.

In another hadith warning us against this same danger, we read: ‘From the signs of the Hour is that knowledge will be taken from the young ones.’11 These young [junior] ones (asaghir, sing. saghir) refers to either: the innovators (ahl al-bid‘ah); as Imam Ibn al-Mubarak declared, or to those who give fatwas and religious rulings without sound qualification and expertise; as per Abu ‘Ubayd and others.12 In either case, it is just as Ibn Mas‘ud, may Allah be pleased with him, cautioned: ‘People will not cease to be upon good as long as they take knowledge from their senior ones. If they take it from their junior and wicked ones, they are sure to perish.’13

What each of us must ensure is that, when it comes to seeking religious rulings and guidance, we must turn to those men or women known in society for their learning, knowledge, piety and qualification. Anything less than this will not do. The obligation on the general public is to not be slack, but rather to try their best and ask only those who they think are qualified; just as they would do in other important or crucial areas of their lives.

Similarly, mosques must ensure they do not give the pulpit to some young, half baked, hot-headed khatib. Muslim TV channels and websites which host Q&A sessions must only allow qualified people to answer the publics’ questions. And the public should, if they are unsure, ask the organisers of such shows and websites if those who are acting as muftis are qualified for the task. Let’s be clear. This is not about whether someone has memorised the Qur’an. or is a student of the sacred Islamic sciences (talib al-‘ilm), or is qualified in hadith, tafsir, tajwid or tarikh. It’s about whether they are qualified in actual fiqh and fatwa. If not; or if one is in doubt, switch channels.

4. Again from Ibn Ma‘sud: ‘You are in a time in which its scholars (‘ulema) are many and its speakers (khutaba) are few. But after you will come a time in which its scholars are few and its speakers many.’14 Again, the end times bring with it a deterioration in standards and an inversion in roles and ranks. Now since the idea of “being qualified” or “proper qualification” has been insisted upon a number of times already, let’s look at the learning and levels of the qualified scholar and muftis in more detail:

The genre of literature known as Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti – “Conduct of Muftis and of Seeking Fatwas” – lists the needed credentials in terms of being ‘alim bi ahkam al-shar‘iyyah, “learned in the rulings of the Sacred Law.”15 This requires muftis to possess thorough knowledge of: (i) The five-hundred or so legal verses in the Qur’an. (ii) The hadiths related to legal issues, along with knowing how to evaluate their authenticity and epistemological value; or to at least rely on the experts in this field. (iii) Those cases which have become subject to scholarly consensus (ijmå‘) so as not to contradict it. (iv) Theories of abrogation, so as not to rule on the basis of an abrogated verse or hadith. (v) Arabic language and its nuances, in order to understand literal and metaphorical useage; general and particular discourse; idioms; and also equivocal and unequivocal speech. (iv) The procedural methods of analogical deduction (qiyas) and inferential reasoning (istinbat).

The legal literature also states that the term mufti is synonymous with mujtahid – one capable of ijtihad: of extracting or infering rulings directly from the foundational texts (i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah). A mufti who has gained complete mastery in the above-listed qualifications is called an absolute mujtahid (mujtahid mutlaq). A mufti who has gained expertise, but not complete mastery, in these ijtihad credentials is a mujtahid bound by the legal framework of a law-school (mujtahid fi’l-madhhab). In both cases, these two mujtahids work with the foundational texts: the first does so unrestrictedly and directly; the second, according to the methodological principles of his law-school or madhhab.

Below these two are muftis who are “non-mujtahids.” They too are of varying ranks. There is the mufti who, although not capable of ijtihad, is highly versed in his school’s modes of legal reasoning and analogy; has committed to memory its rulings; and is able to defend, refine and resolve ambiguous cases – tilting the scales in favour of one of two or more opinions on the matter. He can even infer rulings for new cases based on established precedents of the school. Then there are muftis who are trained jurists, but their skills are limited to distinguishing between the authoritative (mu‘tamad) and less authoritative positions of their school, as well as memorising its issues (masa’il), or positive law.

Finally comes the mufti who is a poorly trained jurist and is unable to distinguish left from right. What he does have going for him, though, is a competency to transmit the authoritative rulings of the school on any or most given issues, with reliable accuracy. His level is ifta’ bi’l-hifz – “issuing fatwa by having carefully and diligently memorised the school’s legal rulings.” In the absence of other types of muftis, lay people and other non-muftis are obliged to ask such trained transmitters of law and legal rulings.16

Before soldiering on, a few remarks are in order. Firstly, barring the last type of mufti, all the others engage in highly complex modes of legal reasoning and juristic activity. Secondly, in our age, when we say that so-and-so is a mufti, we don’t mean that he is a mujtahid, but rather that he gives fatwas based on the books and rulings of his law school, or upon the ijtihad of a mujtahid he is following in the issue. That is, muftis of today do not infer legal rulings themselves from the root sources. Thirdly, although in Islam’s earlier period muftis were invariably mujtahids, the term was widened at some later point to include non-mujtahid jurists too, out of a pressing need (hajah).17 And finally, in terms of the levels of muftiship today, most muftis fall into the last category; some in the two levels above; fewer in the mujtahid level (either mujtahid in specific areas of the law, like marriage, divorce, inheritance, or finance; or the rarer mujtahid fi’l-madhhab). As for the absolute mujtahid, from what my scholars and teachers have taught me, they have been absent from the ummah for a very long time now.

Even with just a casual grasp of the above levels, the distinction between the qualified scholar or mufti, and between the religious activist or da’i will be clear. The former are qualified; the latter more often than not lack legal qualifications and fiqh schooling. Fatwa and religious instruction is sought from the former, not the latter. In fact, the latter are themselves in need of the former. As for the vague, new-fangled category of the “knowledgeable brother,” it would be best if we stopped using such a meaningless classification. For one’s knowledge either qualifies her or him to give religious rulings and fatwas, or it doesn’t. For one is either followed in knowledge, or else one follows and imitates; and in both there is goodness. One hadith says: ‘Whoever gives a fatwa without due knowledge, shall bear the sin of those he gave it to.’18

5. Our final hadith depicting the topsy-turviness of the End Days is this one: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted, the trustworthy deemed treacherous; and the Ruwaybidah will speak out.’ They asked: Who are the Ruwaybidah? To which the Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: ‘The lowly, contemptible one who will speak out about public affairs.’19 This particular inversion of affairs usually plays itself out in matters related to society and politics.

Scholarly commentaries do not specify exactly who the Ruwaybidah are, but do point out their traits. Lexically, being the diminutive or tasghir of the word rabidah (“lowly”, “good for nothing”, “worthless”), the Ruwaybidah are lower than worthless: they are utterly worthless. These are people who are incapable of rising up to distinction, lack integrity and, above all, possess little more than a glimmer of religious knowledge.20 In spite of this, they feel to speak out about socio-political affairs beyond their grasp and experience. They feel to offer fatwas and act as social commentators, based upon their whims and ignorance. They presume to be sincere advisors to the ummah, while being infantile in their understanding and wet behind the ears! And those who speak from ignorance will, ultimately, do more harm than good.

In one verse of the Qur’an which speaks of society and politics, we learn this pivotal rule of conduct: If any matter comes to them concerning security or fear, they spread it around. But if they had only referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority, those among them who are able to investigate and think out the matter would then know [what to do with] it. [4:83]

Imam al-Sa‘di shed more light on the verse, saying: ‘This is a counsel from Allah, to His servants, about their unsuitable conduct. And that it is imperative for them, when there comes to them news about crucial affairs of public benefit – like those related to the security and welfare of the believers, or to breaches of security and calamities afflicting them – that they must first verify such things and not be hasty in spreading such news. Instead, they should refer such matters to the Messenger, or to those in authority among them: those possessed of sound judgement, learning, intelligence, sincere advice, calmness and composure; those who understand such issues and have knowledge of the associated benefits and harms.’21 It wasn’t too long ago, in the not so distant past, that we the ummah deferred to knowledge, wisdom and dispassionate worldly discernment. The Ruwaybidah, however, are contagious; like rabies, they have infected a significant part of the ummah. And social media continues to be a perfect platform for their madness to spread. A calm, yet courageous commitment to taqwa, and a return to knowledge and its people, is the only inoculation we have against the Ruwaybidah rabies; and Allah’s help is sought.

As the Final Hour closes in, the world is indeed getting more and more topsy-turvy. Currently, the ummah is in a state of weakness, chaos and confusion. Externally, our way of life is threatened by liberalism’s bulldozer, which seeks to flatten all voices of dissent; particularly the Ishmaelite one. Internally, we are weak, woefully divided, and plagued by extremism and religious anarchy. And yet believers despair not. For out of this weakness, confusion and chaos the Mahdi shall come!

1. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:140.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.59.

3. Consult: al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 1:451.

4. Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri, al-Akhlaq wa’l-Siyar fi Mudawat al-Nufus (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 24.

5. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:554. Its narrators are all those of the Sahih, as stated by al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 7:326.

6. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:181.

7. ibid., 28:182.

8. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8564. Its chain is sahih, as Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut said in his crititical edition of Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:245.

9. Muslim, no.49.

10. Al-Bukhari, no.100; Muslim, no.2673.

11. Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhd (Riyadh: Dar al-Mi‘raj, 1995), no.52. Its chain is excellent (jayyid), according al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), 2:316; no.695.

12. See: Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1995), 612-17; nos.1052-60.

13. ibid., no.1057.

14. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8066; Abu Khaythamah, al-‘Ilm, 109. Its chain was graded as sahih in Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Egypt: al-Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, n.d.), 10:510.

15. Consult: al-Khatib, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih (Riyadh: Dar al-Ifta, 1968), 2:330-31; al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ (Beirut: Dar Ihya Turath al-‘Arabi, 1996), 1:72-96; Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawziyyah, 2003), 6:40-208.

16. Culled from: Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘låm al-Muwaqqi‘in, 6:125-28; Ibn al-Salah, Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Beirut: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1986), 87-102.

17. See: I‘låm al-Muwaqqi‘in, 2:86.

18. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.54. It was declared sahih by al-Suyuti, as per al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, 6:77.

19. Ibn Majah, no.4036; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:465, who said: ‘Its chain is sahih.

20.  As per al-Sindi, Sunan Ibn Majah bi Sharh al-Sindi (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1996), 4:377.

21. Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman (Dammam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 193-4.

Revering the Symbols of God in an Age of Irreverence

Kaaba-7The Qur’an says: Whoever reveres the symbols of God, that is from piety of hearts. [22:32] Symbols (sha‘a’ir) refers to signs, marks or emblems by which something is known to belong to some particular body or group of people. Flags, for instance, are sha‘a’ir; as are those religious rites and practices which are emblematic of, or specific to, certain religious communities.

Here, the symbols of God being spoken of in the above verse refer to those well-known, external commands and prohibitions emblematic of Islam: the prayer, adhan, fasting, pilgrimage rites, the prohibition of pork or of drinking intoxicants, etc. Revering and venerating God’s symbols shows veneration for the One who sent them; which is from piety of hearts.

The signs that one reveres God’s sha‘a’ir are: fulfilling their demands; keeping to their limits; being attentive to accomplishing them correctly; hastening to them when they are due; and to be sad, disappointed or contrite if having missed any of their benefits. Another sign of veneration is to feel anger when God’s symbols are mocked or reviled, and sadness when they are disobeyed.1 Such anger, I must add, isn’t the uncontrolled, egotistical kind that causes faces to be twisted or contorted beyond recognition, and mouths to froth with frenzied rage and pathetic political imbecility. God forbid that the dignity of a believer should be so degradingly compromised.

Revering the symbols of God, and the Sacred Law of God, becomes ever more difficult when one lives in an Age of Irreverence, as we do. For treating someone or something, not just with courtesy, but with deep respect – for that’s what reverence calls for – can be an uphill task. The ego is ever eager to demean the sacred and drag things down to the lowest common doleful denominator. The pursuit of its own diktats, cravings and impulsive desires is what the ego is about; not the pursuit of virtues, or the growth of the Spirit. Whatever good is inherent in any liberal democracy, is being demonstrably erased by the unstoppable entrenchment of an ego culture. Affluenza is what British psychologist Oliver James has named it. For embedded in the philosophy of political liberalism, and consumerism, is the principle of pandering to the ego, and a reverence for irreverence.

As today’s liberal prescriptions become ever more intolerant; and ever more eager to suppress, stigmatise and demonise any significant dissenting voices, honouring God’s symbols (especially in respect to morality and gender relations) becomes much more difficult. Even so, we mustn’t be bullied into failing to state the correct Islamic rulings in such matters, nor be browbeaten into silence: And whoever reveres the sacraments of God, that is better for him with his Lord. [22:30].

1. Cf. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 2006), 32, 39.

Are We Progressing or Drifting Dangerously Downstream?


Progress signifies a movement forward. But it tells us nothing about the actual nature of the movement. Is it downstream or upstream? Is it hurtling to danger or marching to safety? Is it a descent or an ascent? Is it a fall from Grace or a lifting of the Spirit? The fact that something marches forward progressively doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good thing. Cancer progresses, but no one considers it good. What I’m trying to say is that how do we know when progress is good, and what is the yardstick by which it is measured? One of Islam’s arbab al-qulub, or “spiritual masters,” has said: fi’l-harakah barakah – ‘in movement there is a blessing.’ Evidently, though, not every movement is blessed.

The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: ‘Be in the world as though you are a stranger or a traveller.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6416] He also explained: ‘What have I to do with the life of this world. My example in regards to this worldly life is like that of a rider who rests for a while under the shade of a tree, but then moves on.’ [Tirmidhi, no.2377] In order for life to be a journey moving in the right direction, we must always move ‘upstream’ against the current – against the relentless pull of the world or dunya.

The late Martin Lings says in his Ancient Beliefs, Modern Superstitions, that until quite recently, such was the orientation of human societies the world over: the ‘boats’ were, so to speak, at least pointing upstream – whether the force of the current was actually carrying them downstream or not. But there came a time, wrote Lings, within the last two hundred years or so, when for want of the least effort needed to keep the front of the boats facing the right direction, a number of boats that were drifting downstream backwards were deflected to meet the current broadside on and thus to be, as it were, with no orientation whatsoever. In this vulnerable position of doubt, uncertainty and hopelessness it was not difficult for the current to turn them completely around until they were facing the way they were drifting: downstream. With shouts of triumph that they were ‘at last making some progress’, they called on those who were still struggling upstream to ‘throw off the fetters of superstition’ and to ‘move with the times’. A new creed was quickly cobbled together to justify this U-turn. It stated that man’s previous historical efforts to move upstream were reactionary, utterly pointless and misguided; yet despite all reactionary man’s folly and futility, they ‘couldn’t keep man in the dark night of ignorance’ and that ‘progress’ would surely win through. So by the twentieth century we had arrived at what was described by someone as ‘the glorious morning of the world’.1

Struggling against the sweeping currents of dunya does not mean that believers are to cast aside the world, tending only to the work of faith and the Spirit. The Qur’an says: ‘But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which God has given you, and do not forget your portion of the world, and be kind even as God has been kind to you. And seek not corruption in the earth; for God loves not corrupters.’ [28:77]

Yet remembering our portion of the world should not be taken to mean that material advances – in terms of science and technology, or the system of politics or economics adopted by a nation – are the true measures of progress. The Qur’an relates a number of narratives about previous civilisations and their technological “progress”. Yet when put side by side with their heedlessness or denial of the Divine Reality, such progress is seen for what it truly is: delusion and civilisational hubris. Informs the Qur’an: Have they not travelled in the earth and seen the fate of those before them. They were far mightier than them in power, and they dug the earth and built upon it more than they did. And their Messengers brought them clear signs. God wronged them not, but they wronged themselves. Evil was the end of those who dealt in evil, because they denied the signs of God and mocked them. [30:9-10]

Early Muslim pietists were at pains to instil in us the quintessential Quranic message, that mere material progress – ‘digging the earth and building on it’ – can never be the measure of any true, meaningful success. Islamic sources relate that in 28AH/649CE the first ever Muslim naval expedition was launched against Cyprus, which was under the rule of the Byzantine empire; now in its twilight years.

The Muslim army was quick to overrun the small Byzantine garrison and the Cypriots were soon paying tribute to the Muslims. On seeing the ease with which the people of this once powerful empire lay defeated and subdued, Abu’l-Darda – a Companion of the Prophet and worldly renunciant – began to weep. On being asked why he wept on the day God had granted victory to Islam and the Muslims, he answered: ‘Woe to you! How insignificant creation becomes to God when they neglect His commands. Here is a nation that was once mighty, powerful and had dominion. Then they abandoned the commands of God; so look what has become of them.’2

So in judging the contemporary world’s unrelenting drive for progress, believers need not concur with all the orthodoxies and popular assumptions of the age. Civilisational greatness or technological progress for their own sake, as may be seen, count for very little in the Quranic scheme of things. Digging the earth is one thing; burying the path to salvation is another thing altogether.

In closing, then, let’s pose that all-important question again: How should change and progress be appraised?

For Muslims, insisted Gai Eaton, there can be only one test by which to assess change. Does it promote piety – awareness of the divine Presence – or diminish it? Does it lead an increasing number of men and women to the gates of Paradise, or encourage them to stray from God’s path? Does it reinforce the divinely revealed Law, or does it cloud the distinction between what is commanded and what is forbidden? Obviously, there are, he says, other considerations; but they must take a lower place in a fixed order of priorities: An increase in life expectancy is, of course, a good thing, but pointless if the additional years do not lead to an increasing awareness of the divine Reality which we are soon to meet. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the ease and comforts the modern world provides, but these count for nothing if their soft embrace encourages us to forget our origin and our ultimate end.3

As the demands for Islam to progress and to adopt modern liberal doctrines intensify, we must ensure that – regardless of the pressure – we keep the ‘boats’ facing the right direction: namely, upstream. A certain amount of glitzy conceit usually accompanies those who wield political dominance in every age; and our age is no exception. But as believers, we needn’t be taken in by such posturing. We must not be enthralled by the superficial glitter of what is essentially a materialistic, atheistic Monoculture; and nor be blinded by the glare of its present might: Let not the strutting of the disbelievers in the land beguile you. [3:196]

As for the temptation to water down faith or gloss over Islam’s less “palatable” points, The Qur’an exhorts: Perhaps you may [feel to] leave out some of what is revealed to you, and your hearts feel strained that they say: ‘Why hasn’t a treasure been sent down for him, or an angel not come with him?’ You are nothing but a warner, and God is Guardian over all things. [11:12]

That is to say, the weakened spirit may ask itself: “What if I omit this religious ruling, or that duty, in order to better my liberal credentials: will God’s truth not be accepted more readily?” Yet we are told the truth must be delivered as it was revealed, and to skip over a portion of what is obligated would be to surely miss the point. We should, of course, be wise, patient, convivial and understand our context as best as we can; then leave the rest to God (or, as it is said, ‘do your best, then trust in God to do the rest’). For tahqiq al-‘ubudiyyah, “realising servitude to God,” is a Muslim’s unalterable direction of progression. Islam and the Monoculture must learn how to accomodate each other precisely on such a basis.

1. See: Ancient Beliefs and Moderns Superstitions (Cambridge: Archetype, 2001), 37-8.

2. Ibn Hanbal, al-Zuhd (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1999), 117; no.763.

3. Consult: Gai Eaton, Remembering God: Reflections on Islam (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2000), 25-6.

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