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.