Who Died and Made Me God?

IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN Marx who first said he saw the clothes bereft of their emperor. Art, culture and religion did not determine the economic relations of the world, but rather it was the other way around. Critics soon contended that a direct correlation between an economic base and the cultural superstructure was too simplistic, but the pattern had been set. The root would be determined by its branches, the specific forms of the material dictating the formlessness of the immaterial. To this conclusion: Genealogies that presume earthly roots for the unearthly will only find the dependents, never the independent – and so, predictably, will deny that there is any thing beyond us.

The proof can be found in the ubiquitous trivialization of morality – the juvenile reduction of morality to bigotry. We are increasingly informed that the only obstacle to our contentment is external oppression. Only through unchecked criticism, an intrusive idol at whose altar we sacrifice tradition and continuity, can we realize the real self, and hence sustained satisfaction. This is partly why we are but bound from one transgression to the next, celebrating abortion as the emancipation of woman to celebrating homosexuality as the emancipation of sexuality to celebrating euthanasia as the emancipation of life. But this criticism knows not where to end; only, how to repeat.

Is it not odd that some of the most insistent advocates of self-realization have a financial stake in the matter – preying on our fear of death and any indication of grayness or gravity? These few want us to become controlled and limited by that part of our selves that wants and wants others to know we have (attained) those wants. This is the doubting philosopher’s fate: Shorn of his belief in anything outside himself, the agnostic devastates the human spirit, his assaults seized by the ill-minded and applied, with rigorous concern, to the unaware. In this, the Muslim’s responsibility is to ask questions, but more deeply.

If I am to be myself, and in that lays my succor, then I must be very confident that I am truly becoming myself. But who is Haroon, and how can Haroon tell himself to be(come) Haroon? Not to mention the more damning concerns: If there is a part of me that is not influenced by society, but rather can and should be freed from society and the standards it imposes, then where did that real self come from? If the real self is intrinsic to every person, then most likely that is the result of evolution, in which case rebelling against our parents wouldn’t make much sense: The real self would be an inheritance from the mother and father; as that is how genetic inheritance works. Of course, this is a thought that is never countenanced, nor indeed the immense consequences for such an intersection of Islamic spirituality and biological genealogies.

That no hearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another; and that there is for each naught but what he strove for; and that his striving shall soon be seen. (Qur’an 53:38-40)

For the Muslim, the rediscovery of fitra – man’s pristine nature – is the rebuilding of the self, which begins with the need for God and concludes with the aim of finding solace in His compassion. The tumult that represents Western culture’s anxieties about values is the result of unchecked criticism: Every time it finds a safe place to stand, it begins to criticize that ground. Hence it is hard to say what we will hear championed in 20 years, though it would be easy to imagine it some deviancy, abominable in 2006. Better we probe not only conclusions, but also the premises that bring us there. We were told the divine was an imposition on the material – curiously, we could not, popularly, tolerate this, so we confused the material with the divine. The self has been unearthed, free of exterior standards, but unsustainable-: Instead, we believe in it blindly, a case of the self’s bigotry upon itself. The reason for revelation is the helplessness of reason.

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    A piece previously published in the print issue of Islamica Magazine between 2003-2009. The following has been an effort to digitize and archive as a free service. Author citations can be found at islamicamagazine.com as we continue to work on improving the digital archives here.

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