Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Strangers in a Strange Land

A Christian wrote to me seeking the perspective of
a Muslim concerning the troubled times in which we
all live. More specifically, the individual was
wondering about how to deal with the considerable
intolerance and hatred which seems to surround us
today -- even within various religious traditions.
In addition, this individual was interested in
whether peace on Earth was realizable given the
extent of hostilities which exist in the world


George Bernard Shaw once said of Islam and Muslims
something along the following lines. Whenever I
read the Qur'an and look at the life of the Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him), my heart is filled with
joy and love, so I want to rush and become Muslim.
However, whenever I look to Muslims and see how they
live their lives, I want to run away from the religion

Many Muslims are fond of saying that Islam is the
fastest growing religion in the world. Whenever I
hear this I am tempted to say, and sometimes do say,
that Islam is also the fastest dying religion in the
world because more and more Muslims are losing touch
with the real spirit and essence of this tradition.

There is a huge difference between Islamic history and
Muslim history. Most people, however, both Muslim and
non-Muslim, confuse the two and assume that the latter
is synonymous with the former, and this is not the case.

For instance, one does not have to do a great deal of
research to demonstrate that vested western political,
economic, cultural and religious interests have played
a huge role in shaping what is going on in most Muslim
countries -- including the present 'crisis' in Iraq .
Nevertheless, notwithstanding these truths, Muslims need
to take a good, long hard look at themselves in the mirror
to understand what role they, themselves, have played in
bringing the Muslim world to its present unenviable
position - economically, legally, politically, scientifically,
environmentally, morally and spiritually.

I have started out in this way, because I want readers to
understand that the problems which people are facing within
the Christian tradition are not unique to them. Most people,
irrespective of their spiritual tradition, who are serious
about spirituality -- both in terms of its possibilities as
well as in terms of its responsibilities -- are deeply
concerned about the increasing size of the gap between what
any given spiritual tradition offers and what all too many
people are doing, or not doing, with respect to what is
being offered through our spiritual traditions.

None of what went on in either of the three Gulf Wars, for
example, can be reconciled with what Jesus or Moses or
Muhammad (peace be upon them all) taught. As the old rock
group, The Buffalo Springfields, once wrote in a song called:
'For What It's Worth', "nobody's right, if everybody's wrong".

The people on all sides of these conflicts try to justify
what they are doing with talk of principles involving
rights, freedom, democracy, truth, justice, fairness,
and so on. In reality, no such principles are involved.

It is all about money, resources, control, selfishness,
hatred, revenge, ignorance, pride, prejudice, illusion,
bias, false presuppositions, hostility, darkness, power,
authoritarianism, fear, greed, and stupidity. Sadaam
Hussein - to whatever extent the media demonization of
him is warranted - is not the only possible madman and
thug involved in the Iraq crisis.

The situation vis-a-vis the Gulf, and it appears that
this scenario may be played out again in the near future
in neighboring countries, gives expression, in miniature,
to what is going on throughout the world. The Gulf situation
reflects the ugliness of the human condition -- a condition
which is everywhere apparent on the world stage.

Some of this ugliness we hear about and know about now.
Some of this ugliness, we only come to know about later.
And, some of it - a great deal of it, actually -- we may
never come to know about - at least, not in this world.

For example, only recently, and quite by chance, did I
come to learn about the extent of the uncivilized
condtions which the tens of thousands of refugees of
Fallujah had to endure at the hands of so-called
coalition forces. These people who were forced, under
threat of death, to leave their homes prior to the
onslaught against Fallujah, were given little, or no,
housing, food, water, or medical assistance by the
coalition forces.

The foregoing report did not come from al-Jazeera but,
rather, from a private American citizen, Mark Manning,
who risked much to go there. His eye-witness testimony
belies the sort of manufactured news which one often
receives through the American media -- whether left
or right.

What does all of this have to do with the inquiry with
which this blog began? We live in insane times, and our
problem is that we would like everybody to live in
accordance with the principles of spirituality rather
than the rule of ego and the desires of the carnal soul
which, seemingly, are so much easier to abide by --
although, in reality, this is a totally false presupposition
... and we see the results of the reality beneath this
false presupposition all around us.

The challenge facing us, and people like us (that is, those
who are fed-up with all of the carnage and hostilities), is
how do we proceed in the midst of such insanity? How do we
proceed when confronted by the duplicity of what people
profess (especially so-called leaders) - whether Christian,
Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, or whatever
-- and what they actually do?

Part of the answer comes in realizing, as one of the
characters in the comic strip "Pogo" announced more than
thirty years ago, "We have met the enemy, and they is us.
We must understand, that there, but for the Grace of God,
go we, and even with the Grace of God, we ourselves sometimes
become caught up in the same insanity which so revolts us.

Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, the Buddha, Krishna, and so on
(peace be upon them all) were all hated in their times by
different portions of the population. Other people in their
times feared what these individuals were calling people to
-- in other words, to God, and away from the world, human
desires and vested interests.

Their times were insane as well, and, presumably, this is
why these individuals were sent by God -- to help people deal
with the insanity. And, even if the insanity only could be
curbed for a time, and not completely defeated, then, these
individuals, by the Grace of God, came to teach people how
to live in spite of, and in the midst of, such insanity.

I do not believe that it is possible to achieve heaven or
paradise on Earth. Indeed, if the aforementioned individuals,
who are the greatest among human beings to ever walk the face
of God's good Earth, could not, with God's help, establish
heaven or paradise on Earth, then, I think only the greatest
of arrogance could suppose that far lesser human beings could
achieve what such spiritually gifted individuals did not, and,
in fact, were not permitted to, achieve, by Divinity.

Whatever peace, joy, happiness, ecstasy, stability, harmony
and love is going to be realized must, God willing, come from
within. It will not come from without, except in very ephemeral,
limited ways.

The spiritual heroes and heroines were happy and loving
and compassionate despite the insanity. Indeed, they
ministered, each in their own way, to the insanity --
knowing, I believe, that even if one could not eradicate
the disease (the false-self), nonetheless, they could,
God willing, help some individuals to learn how to
fight-off and cope-with, this human malady and even,
if one were extraordinarily blessed, how to realize
the true Self - of which each of these individuals were
unique, magnificent, beautiful, wonderful, inspiring

In short, they taught that the source of the insanity
is within each of us. They also taught that the solution
to that insanity lies within as well, but at a deeper,
more essential level.

What inspires me, drives me, directs me, orients me,
guides me, informs me, colors me, sustains me, and
shapes me is my relationship with my mystical/spiritual
teacher. Such teachers carry on the work of the great
spiritual personalities who have preceded them.

In fact, such teachers are but different manifestations
of one, and the same, spiritual reality. The truth which
flowed through Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, and so on (peace
be upon them all), also flows through such individuals
according to the God-given spiritual capacity of such
individuals -- although not everyone who claims to be
such a teacher actually is (a problem to be discussed
at another time, perhaps).

Everything that I know about Islam, I know through my
spiritual teacher, Dr. M. Qadeer Baig (may God be pleased
with him) who was kind enough, while living in this world,
to take me on as a reclamation project many years ago.
Unfortunately, there are many Muslims who would claim that
what is being taught by individuals like Dr. Baig -- and
others like him -- is un-Islamic ... and the world is much
the worse for such rigid attitudes and dogmatism.

Anab Whitehouse


Anonymous said...

Hello Anab,
I am uzma from Australia. I do agree with your vision about the present era and also i would like to say that for muslims it is very necessary to practice/adopt/accept/thinkabout islam spritually as well. We are stuck in visible values and have forgotten the real soul and thats why r far away from Allah........

Anonymous said...

God called the future humanity out of the loins of the not yet created Adam, and addressed them with the words: 'Am I not your Lord ?' (alastu bi-rabbikum) and they answered: 'Yes, we witness' (balâ shahidnâ)." [Quran 7:172]
'The one who knows himself, knows his Lord' - man arifa nafsâhu, arafa rabbâha. [Hadith]
"Whoever has got dhikr, fikr and himma
will in every moment rise above otherness,
Take care – you cannot despise even the lowest atom.
Things have no existence except through their Lord.
O Living! O Eternal! Your own most eloquent proof!"
(Diwan of Shaykh, Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib)
The Sufis say, 'Alhamdu lillahi 'ala kulli hal' - Praise belongs to Allah in every state.