Friday, August 20

Islamic Superficiality

I have no qualms in admitting to being a "Lazy Muslim". That is, I've determined what I feel to be the most basic and easiest path to God - that is regular practice, leading a clean life, being honest and (kind of) nice to people - and made an attempt to implement and ingrain those things in my life. As such, I don't really go out of my way to improve on this way of life. I don't search far and wide (ie Syria or Egypt or Rihlas) for knowledge (I don't claim to know it all, but I do think I know enough to cover 99% of what life will bring me, with local accessible knowledge covering the rest), I'll only really give dawah by example and won't really be involved in organising any kind of overtly Islamic events and the only time I'll even think about going to a talk or a lecture is if it's on the way home from work (and I'm promised a good meal afterwards). Like I said, lazy.

I do hold those who aren't lazy in high regard. These folk put in at least one hundred times the effort I do, organising events, making Islam accessible, travelling to other countries to partake in knowledge and learning camps, and going to great lengths to worship their Lord. I find them to be inspiring and will never undermine or doubt their actions.

Right. Now that we have the niceties out of the way, it's now time for me to lose some friends. I'll get straight to the point: in my opinion there seems to be an increasing practice of what I can only describe as a superficial Islam. This in turn is demonstrated in various ways, and it's probably easiest if I list my observations thus. But before I continue, please forgive me for my lack of tact and diplomacy. Oh and I'm also well aware of the irony bordering on hypocrisy by me in even publishing this post, so you don't have to mention it.

  1. It's visible. Stuff seems to only be worth doing if it can be blogged or tweeted about. Feelings and experiences can now only be expressed in Arabic (reversed 3s and all), and you can't budge online without people telling you how spiritually uplifting some qiraat they heard was. There's an overt preoccupation with Islam and islamic issues, and it's all anyone can seem to talk about now (a bit like me with marriage actually).
  2. It's social. Stuff is only worth doing if enough other people are doing it too. An event is only worth going to if it has a flyer and FaceBook group set up for it.
  3. It's very obvious. It's like picking low hanging fruit, and in some cases at the expense of our more implicit obligations. Babysitters are now called in so we can attend tarawih prayers. Husbands are leaving their families for ten days or more in order to sit in the mosque for itikaaf. Prayers will only be observed under the most correct conditions, otherwise they're left to one side for later.
  4. It's cliquey. Actions need to be validated by cheerleading, @replying and FB liking. Lectures with rockstar scholars are now being traded, recorded and collected like top trump cards.
  5. It's progressive. Opinion is only valid if rejecting tradition or going back to the "real and more authentic" sunnah. Counter-examples in the form of "brainwashed" traditional types are used to prop up a mindset, and it's very them and us.
  6. It's blind. There is a distinct lack of critical thought and reflection, and as such we're left with a very "cookie cutter" implementation of Islam. The same scholars, webpages and circles are followed with agreement with what they say almost inevitable. The irony is that these sources are usually cherry picked in the first place because they agree with what is already believed, so they serve as validation and vindication rather than open-mindedness, and as such there is no internal challenge. This is the fault of the attendees rather than the scholars, etc - the latter would be the first to instruct those listening to them to rigorously critique what they say.
  7. It's complicated. A two hour course on Zakah, followed by a day of private study and then an exam is needed before you even think of calculating what you owe. The onus seems to be on the detail rather than the act itself, the justification being that it has to be done correctly or not at all.
  8. It's selfish. The individual right to worship takes priority over the responsibilities toward family, friends, society and in some cases the individual themselves.
These are all good and worthy things and should not necessarily be put to bed. However in my view there is a distinct lack of depth in all these characteristics. I am reluctant to suggest possible reasons since I'll probably offend even more people than I already have, but I should just for completeness' sake.

Firstly there seems to be a lack of fundamental and rigorous formal training now, with scorn poured over traditional madarasahs and the like. Related to this, there's also an emphasis on marketable action rather than spirit. Short-cuts, fads and side-effects now drive the reason to be a Muslim rather than the more difficult strategy involving hard work, reading and independent analysis. Opinion is packaged and presented, which is amusing since it makes some critics of traditionalism just as literal and "brainwashed" as those they are criticising. There's no open-mindedness, so insightfulness, no introspection and no constant re-evaluation.

Secondly these traits are sometimes a result of being new to a life where Islam is the focus. Just like learning to walk or talk, there's a learning curve, but due to the eagerness to catch up on lost time, religion may evolve artificially in haste instead of organically at a slower but more rigorous and sure pace.

And finally there's the ultimate scapegoat: the Internet. as much good as it brings, it also has a tendency to shallow out everything it touches - relationships, careers, knowledge and art have all suffered from the Internet effect, and there's no reason why religion would be immune.

But before I end, let me make this much clear: this is not about the lack of any good intention. Indeed, there would be no way for a person to know why someone else is doing something and so I have no view on that. However even the best intention doesn't guarantee correct behaviour, and in that sense this post is more a reminder or suggestion that we all continue to look to improve our relationship with God, in whatever form that improvement may come.


EDIT: Based on the comments so far, it seems that I've been a bit unclear as to what I'm discussing above. This post IS NOT about people doing things just to be seen doing them. I honestly believe that intent is something that cannot be determined by a third party, and for that reason I always assume that the intention of others are correct. It's worth noting that "visibility" makes just one point of many, but even in that case I'm not saying that some are being visible to be seen by other people, but more that they feel that God will somehow always recognise the visible more than the covert. In that sense worship is still being done for the right reason, but nevertheless lacks a certain depth and sophistication demonstrated via other means.


  1. "Babysitters are now called in so we can attend tarawih prayers."

    I mean no disrespect but the above actually made me LOL.

  2. Anonymous15:31

    shak im impressed with your level of tact, but for this instance only id've preferred the more brutal approach as the 'state' we're in spiritually is far worse than you have implied.. I sense anything is only done if it is heard and seen by others.. its as if we are worshipping the world and wanting acceptance from our peers than god..
    my complete frustration and confusion when i was at university and left to move home to be with my family where i saw there needs were more important to me than attending a talk so i 'could be seen to be a practising muslim', led to others looking down on me as if i was less of a muslim because i wasn't on the social islamic scene so i must lack islamicness..

    i shall refrain from my rant, but a good post.

  3. To be fair I don't think type of person I'm talking about is necessarily judgemental. And as patronising as it sounds, I don't think they're bad people, just misguided.

  4. Anonymous19:35

    when your on the recieving end of judgment it can be easy to see it as judgment. But if i look at myself if it truly was important to me what was in the heart and doing the unseen/things to please Allah only and not for the world to see or in wait for their acceptance/ affirmation i really wouldnt have been troubled/ confused by their judgment.. so in the moment i too could be guilty as it shouldnt have bothered me but outside the box i can see it is simply 'misguided' as we are all as humans..

    shak your being nice.. scary..

  5. Anonymous 121:04

    I'm glad we've agreed that the people described are not necessarily judgemental. Although we can all think of cases where stereotypical 'religious' people have been just that, it isn't and shouldn't be accepted an accurate generalisation- we'd be guilty of the same crime if we did that.

    Right, I'm going to have a rant, because I can't tolerate intolerance.

    'Misguided' is a very condescending choice of term, Shak. I'm sorry, but although I respect your right to get to the other side doing what you believe to be the bare minimum (that's my strategy too), it is probably important to remember that you are in a blissful state of ignorance in that you do not know what you don't know, so are not in a state of certainty of your own status with Allaah let alone the status with Him of others. That renders the judgement you've made completely unqualified- it would have been better left unsaid.

    People engage with Islam in very different ways and their ways, no matter how superficial or unappealing they may seem to others, should be permitted and respected.
    Actions are but by intention and every person will get that which they intended. Not being privy to people's intentions, it is wrong for you to look down on others, who may be in a far better position with Allaah than all of us put together.

    It is safest and more in line with good character that you think good of people or do not think of them at all.

  6. Anonymous 121:07

    'The world will never be satisfied with who you are. Its disappointment will be evident in the locked stares of the ignorant and the arrogance of those who have gained knowledge, but lack humility. They sacrifice one good for another rather than possess them concurrently.

    Yet, it is not rational that we should seek the satisfaction of the created- for we ourselves are a product of creation- rather, our souls should aspire towards the pleasure of the Creator. And in His eyes the most beautiful are the Most Righteous.'

  7. Anonymous00:34

    I may be wrong but I don't think Shak was doubting peoples intentions as he did state that they may have good intentions behind what they do.

    I feel that this post refers to the 'i need to fit into a group-how about the ISOC' type of person.
    I'm all for the new interest people have shown Islam but I am not a fan of the people who can preach outside and inside of the house from dawn til dusk but do very little to act upon what they know.

    In Surah Jumuah verse 5 of the Quran it makes a reference to not be like the donkey carrying books on its back. What is the use of 'seeking knowledge' if you don't act upon what you know?
    From some very close and personal experiences I have met with people who seem 'practising' on paper-they do the weekly dawah, give money to charity, pray in the mosque 5 times a day, hifz, studying abroad etc etc etc BUT they have neglected their duties of being Allah's creation. Ibadah is not about sitting on the prayer mat-ibadah is about knowing you have to go to work in the morning but still getting up for fajr-it's about sacrificing a night out with friends to help out your family- even marital relations between spouses we get rewarded for-ibadah I about realising that Islam is a way of life not just a certificate you put on your wall to say you've studied it.
    Actions are judged by intentions-those who do things to please the people will get that and those who do it to please Allah swt will get their reward.

    People are mis-guidance even amongst the abundance of knowledge they are mis-guided. Its the attitude of 'i know more than you' that is messed the way people look down on you for not going to the next big talk-the way the fact that people are in the masjid for taraweeh and want recognition for that-yet the rest of the year they aren't even there for the fard prayers.

    If anything people have manipulated the religion to satisfy their desires, they pick n choose from the Quran n sunnah what fits into their opinions n ignore the rest.
    This is not Islam...


  8. Anon 1,

    "Misguided" is an awful term, the use of which I regretted as soon as I posted that comment.

    As for the rest of your comment, forgive me but I feel it can be reduced to your last line:

    >It is safest and more in line with good character that you think good of people or do not think of them at all.

    This is a tricky one, and I did almost not post the article in the first place because of what you're saying. However correcting or advising people is a form of dawah too, and my intention isn't to accuse anyone of wrongdoing but merely to improve their current situation. I tried to qualify this by noting that this wasn't about their intention or telling them to change their already good actions.

    There is a thin line between advice and criticism; I believe I was offering the former, although my lack of tact and diplomacy may need working on. I don't think keeping silent is of the better character though, but I did recognise the possible hypocrisy in my post.

    To mitigate any ill feeling, I try to put my best foot forward by being public, attributing my name to what I say, not focussing on anyone in particular and allowing people to respond. So thanks for doing that at least :).

    I truly believe that any person interested in self improvement will read what is being said (by me or anyone else) and either decide it's relevant and look to make change or figure that it doesn't apply. This is precisely the rigorous thinking I'm asking for! If a single reader does look at their actions but then still decides that their current course is correct, well then, I'd think this article was worth posting anyway.

    And finally, it's worth noting that if I wanted to be cruel I could have accused you of exactly the same thing by writing your comment that you're accusing me of doing writing my post. But then we'd just keep going around in circles and not get anywhere.

    I've made an edit to my post above.

  9. >> And finally, it's worth noting that if I wanted to be cruel I could have accused you of exactly the same thing by writing your comment that you're accusing me of doing writing my post. But then we'd just keep going around in circles and not get anywhere.

    tut tut

    However, that mild telling-off aside. Your post has got me thinking quite a bit. Not sure exactly what though! Although I think my main thought is it's all to do with, as is so much, identity.

    I think one to discuss over chicken (I know, I know, I've been pretty rubbish on taking up that offer. Sorry!) post-Ramadan.

  10. Anonymous14:15

    hey i totally get what your saying.. i had simply taken a personal slant on it in relation to how i realted to it from my past 'issues'. But I too can see that my comments in themselves can be seen as judgmental; human nature i suppose we are all imperfect and full of faults; we should strive to reflect and improve ourselves and our relationship with our creator till we're literally 6ft from our graves.

  11. Anonymous 120:13

    (A &) Shak, I had issue solely with the use of the word 'misguided' in the comments section. As you've kindly clarified your real meaning, I have no further qualms....

    Apart from not seeing how you could accuse me of the same thing, but thank you for resisting cruelty. :)

    You make fair points in your blog and the disclaimer should prevent the loss of too many good friends. I'm sure it will benefit those who take the time to check on their intentions.

    Get over the attributing names thing would you. One Anon A has sucumbed and I've compromised by being a very specific Anon. A rose with any other name would smell as sweet. Though of course, you could choose not to get over it :D.

  12. Anonymous 121:00

    Re:Islamic charities (Tweeting is too young for me,sorry).

    I thought most are quite clear about not using money donated to them for admin. costs, but I haven't really used any charity other than Muslim Hands and Interpal before. MH doesn't deduct anything from the money give, but does use the 22p it's able to claim if you're a UK tax payer. Interpal does deduct something, but not when it's specified as Zakat, in which case it deducts nothing, but again utilises the 22p.

    I went to a lecture recently, where the speaker said it is permissible for charities to use donation money to run, so it's good to check out if you'd rather that didn't happen.

    The info. is usually in the 'FAQs' section.

    Muslim Hands:


  13. I think everyone is a bit guilty of it at some point.