Monday, May 23

Breaking Desire

I never thought I'd ever write an opinion post that I could legitimately tag with both Islam and food, but here you go.

The fact is that the book I reviewed in a preceding post was specifically lent to me after I (somewhat flippantly) commented to a friend how once an individual is able to control their appetite of food and sex then anything is possible for them.

Although at that point this random insight (or rather coincidence) was merely my way of declining another slice of cake at the time, the value to an individual of the ability to resist these two desires is something that makes a lot of sense to me, and I was particularly interested in Al-Ghazali's second book Breaking the Two Desires because of how it almost felt like a vindication.

Not being a foodie in particular myself (as in I eat anything without any discrimination), I don't tend to be held by grub as many of my peers seem to be, but I do sometimes succumb and overeat (and feel the regret that comes with that); that said I do feel that it's something I am able to consciously control too - and I did find that the book did help improve that aspect of will power.

But although food and sex can be seen as the important desires to focus on (mainly due to how essential and lawful they are otherwise) it's quite clear that desire doesn't just end with these too. The truth is that most of the people reading (and writing) this post are spoiled rotted. We demand the right to achieve our desires and wants, be they in the form of food or travelling or careers or even our right to incessantly indulge ourselves on Twitter and Facebook.

There is even the somewhat ironic situation were we "over-practise" (an excellent term that I stole from elsewhere) and become addicted to Islamic camps and talks, and that's even before we consider the inevitable social updates that we feel obliged to publish while we're in them. Where's the critical thought? The deep absorption? Before we've even left one we're signing up for the next.

Most passion and fervour can be seen as worldy, but that's not where the problem lies. There doesn't appear to be any self-checking, no self-assessment and no self-regulation. It's more important to be free than measured and in control. Of course I'm not suggesting that we should stifle our interests or even our sources of enjoyment - and I guess that's where I differ from Al-Ghazali - but I do agree that at the very least we should step back and check ourselves from time to time be that in an explicit or implicit manner, and further that we shouldn't hide behind explicit lawfulness to disguise the fact that we are being led by desire.

On a deeper level this is really about considering the limited amount of time we have here, a point that the book stresses quite clearly. As much as it makes me sound like the our madarassah teachers, we appear to be distracting ourselves with the short term of this world instead of thinking of the everlasting in the next. Is the food we eat really relevant in the long term? It literally all goes down the pan anyway. What about the money, work or even the friends that we seem to hold so dear? And sure, I have my own battles to fight, be they my constant need to watch all the films and TV shows I want to, certain dodgy behaviour and even my obsession with getting married. There are very few things that we take with us, worship and the love we have for one another being two examples, so surely we should focus on those instead?

We should enjoy life but not end up relying or being addicted to it; after all we're all going to be forced to let go of it all at some point anyway.


  1. Did you find some of it quite superhuman? I mean I remember there being epic foodlessness endurance in two desires

  2. Fug,

    Are you talking about the book? As I said in the review I found it more masochistic than superhuman, although I guess that's because I'm more of a cynic than you are. Either way, I did take a lot of it with a pinch of salt.

  3. Anon78609:14

    On sex, don't knock it till you've tried it!

  4. Anon786,

    That was actually Al-Ghazali's thing. Seriously though, no one is knocking anything, or saying that enjoyment should be restricted... but only that we shouldn't be slaves to our desires.

  5. Anonymous12:25

    I wonder if you can just switch everything right back on after controlling yourself for however long.

  6. Humaira,

    I'm not sure they point is to switch anything back on.

  7. You sound just like my meditation teacher, and that's not a bad thing. It's very easy to get attached (emotionally or physically) to people and worldly goods but yet it's such a struggle to detach when that should be the most easiest thing in the world to do.

    I may take a read of this book for myself.