Losing Our Religion

Sep 23rd, 2013 | By | Category: Latest, Religion

Losing Our Religion

 That’s me in the corner

That’s me in the spotlight

Losing my religion

Trying to keep up with you

And I don’t know if I can do it

Oh no, I’ve said too much

I haven’t said enough…

(R.E.M., Losing My Religion)

 The meandering mythologies of the Greeks have some insightful truths that are relevant even today. Take Narcissus, handsome and definitely hard-to-get, but really a lonesome fellow. His raison d’être was solely gazing at his own image in a still pond. And then he fell for himself – quite literally – and was transformed into a flower. Poor beautiful flower with such an arrogant name. Narcissus was not the only one condemned to become something else. Races before him were condemned to become monkeys. Races after are further at risk of losing their real selves should they choose not to mend their ways. Glory and its grandeur never truly last. In Narcissus’s case, glory, which was the cause behind the condemnation was nothing but delusion.

Self-love is the first ‘lesson of life’ we teach ourselves. “I come first.” “I matter.” “I’m special.” “Why should I care?” The culture around us is no different from what Echo would do for Narcissus. It resonates a subtle and subliminal, almost hypnotic allure, telling us how unique we are: “Because you’re worth it.” “You should be happy.” “Be what you want to be.”  We hear such feel-good phrases all the time. The curse of our time is nothing but the nuisance of narcissism. Celebration and promotion of the self is the rule of thumb for being a happy ‘you.’ Rooted behind this hubris is a deep and mocking truth: the other is nothing, because I am everything.

 Sayyidna ‘Umar bin Khattab (RA), came to the Prophet (SAW) and openly confessed his self-love despite his submission to the faith. And the Prophet told him that you cannot have complete faith unless you love me more than you love yourself. In effect, the Prophet was trying to weed out self-love from Sayyidna ‘Umar’s personality. Why would he do that? Because self-love is the final hurdle towards fully submitting to faith. It’s our self that becomes the ultimate ‘ghuroor’, the ultimate delusion.

 Those of us who claim to have full faith in our faith are deeply and darkly in love with our own selves: our narcissism lies in this claim that we have full faith. And these Words should really put our faith in place and perspective:

Say, You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. [49:14]

The same message is echoed in the opening lines of the said chapter: “O you who have believed, do not put [yourselves] before Allah and His Messenger but fear Allah” [49:1] 

Today none of us who believe will have the brash honesty to say that we love our selves (two separate words) more than Allah and His Messenger. No one will have the audacity to even believe in that. So shameful. Unthinkable. Hurmat-e Rasul par jaan bhi qurbaan. But here’s how the dark truth becomes a deeper darkness: because we have believed, we have a right to be in love with our selves even more. I read the Qur’an every day. I take the hijab. I keep my trouser above my ankles. And then we point our finger of shahadah like a dart on to the ‘other’: tsk tsk, look at her in that skimpy top, look at him chatting away with that girl, sigh, you can only pray for them, he’s just a lost cause… on the surface we are innocently indulging in what may think is sorrow for the heedless ummati. But deeper inside, there is less sorrow but more satisfaction – rather schadenfreude – that I’m not in that skimpy top, I’m not with some random girl, I’m not a lost cause. Poor them, but at least it’s not me. I’m (therefore) better than them. This is our delusion, this is our ghuroor, this is our hubris. Our arrogance for our own selves at the expense of our fellow Muslims’ apparent outlook is not just irksome. It’s infectious and injurious for the general well-being of ‘our’ ummah as a whole.

We feel satisfied by the well-known fact that so many people are coming to the deen. But the real sorrow is the ignored fact that so many people are leaving the deen, because of this narcissism of ours. We, who claim to be religious people, are making our fellow ummatis lose their religion. We conveniently forget that we all took our sweet, slow time to stumble towards to the deen, understand it, and then fully submit to it. Or so we believe. Yet we are in this rash rush to make all those around us magically and miraculously ‘come back to the deen’, usually with just one polemical discussion focusing on what we think is right and wrong. Usually such discussions are tempered with a strange, evangelical zeal which somehow is used to justify the admonition. We are so frantic and desperate for the ‘other’ to leave the dark side and come to the light (in which we fortunately bask) that we forget to use an important and integral principle: wisdom. So many people simply reject the idea of faith because they are ‘put off’, or rather ‘told-off’ by religious people. And rightly so; religious people do put people off by showing off this evangelical zeal. One inspiring book, one heartening lecture, one exemplary person is not enough for me to become a master of a truth as complex as faith. With my new-found inspiration, I set out on a mission to call others to my side. But my inspiration is nothing but this: new-found and therefore, half-baked. But more importantly (and I would say detrimentally) it’s not just that my message is not motivating enough because of its inadequacy; my message very soon leaves all motivation behind and becomes nothing more but a play of power: I am right, you are wrong, and only one of us can win. It’s a match of wills. Each will as undefeatable and indefatigable as the other.

 This play of power is what is putting even religious people off by religion. Claimants of religious truth in our day and age range from Dr. Amir Liaquat to Dr. Tahir ul Qadri, and a mass array in between. Each is claiming the truth for their own self. Each is claiming – therefore – that I am better than you. One clarification is necessary: the infamously famous Sunni versus Shia, Salafi versus Sufi, Deobandi versus Barelvi schisms and other such various dichotomies are not the focus of the present discussion. This power-play is ironically running deep within each of these schisms themselves: Sunnis lashing against Sunnis, Shias against Shias, Salafis belitting Salafis, Sufis mocking Sufis and the battle goes relentlessly on… the truth now is not about ideology. It’s about power. “My” truth should triumph. And this truth is nothing but an empty and usually an autonomous assertion. And an assertion can never wholeheartedly convince and give comfort. And truth – Islam – is a matter of the heart, and should bring comfort.

An ummah is in his own right, Sayyidna Ibrahim – peace upon him – is one of the many from whom we – his greatest grand-children, his ummatis – can find valuable lessons on how to monitor ourselves from this power-play which has developed into narcissism. In the 26th chapter of the Noble Qu’ran, The Poets, Sayyidna Ibrahim in his signature style makes the most comprehensive of prayers beginning from the eighty-third to the eighty-ninth verse. The opening and closing of this discourse is most pertinent to us today.

My Lord, Grant me knowledge/authority/wisdom/ and join me with the righteous. [26:83]

Islam was never of a case of winning others over through assertion.

And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed, all of them together. So, will you then compel mankind, until they become believers? [10:99]

Here, Allah is advising His Prophet that as much as he would love to have every single soul seek peace in faith, compelling them would not work. With some, even sensible arguments never helped. They don’t even now. Again and again in the Noble Qu’ran, we are told that for some of those who do believe, faith has not ‘yet’ entered your heart. And no one, none of us, can have the authority to truly and rightly know which heart is true and right enough to have itself submitted peacefully in the peaceful submission of Islam.

Islam, like love – is a matter of the heart. The Prophet (SAW) knew this all too well. Several narrations that were voiced for us – the careless caretakers of the deen – focus on this idea and goal that faith dwells in the domain of the heart. The Prophet did not need to make prayers for purifying his heart. He, like Sayyidna Ibrahim, already had that. He phrased those prayers so that we could also aim to attain a detoxified heart. It is narrated by Sayyidna ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessings upon him, said, “Verily the hearts of Adam’s progeny lie between the two Fingers of Ar-Rahman, just as one man’s heart, and He makes the heart turn in whichever direction He Wills.” And then the Prophet made this prayer – “O Allah, the Turner of hearts, turn our hearts towards Your obedience.” [Muslim].

In another narration, Sayyidna Usama bin Zayd, may Allah be pleased with him, says, “The Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings upon him – sent us to [fight] a group of people from the Juhayna tribe. I came across a person and was about to spear him, when he shouted, ‘There is no deity but Allah.’ [without paying any heed] I speared him and killed him. When I returned and informed the Prophet, he said, ‘You killed him even though he testified that there is no deity but Allah?’ I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, he did that only to save himself.’ He asked, ‘Why did you not split his heart [to verify your assumption]?’” (Bukhari, Muslim). Commentators claim that the last part of the narration expresses a tone of censure and indignation. Sayyidna Usama offers a perfectly logical justification for killing the man. But the Prophet condemns the act by saying that if the tribesman had made the declaration of shahadah, who were you to mock the authenticity or the validity of his declaration by killing him? Did you tear open his heart to verify if he was telling the truth? So even if the tribesman said the shahadah, in the very last minute of his life, who were you to judge? This narration shows us that faith is a choice made by the heart, and it is the heart, the qalb-e saliim, that can vouch for its truth.

If Allah has therefore made our other fellow ummatis declare the shahadah, if most of us by sheer accident of birth have been born into Muslim households, who are we to judge the state of anyone else’s heart? Before we are quick to judge – making the slip from righteousness to self-righteousness – we should remember that faith was given to us by Allah in the first place: whether by making us being born into families whose forefathers were fortunate enough to take up the faith, or by making us get in touch with that one inspiring book, lecture, person, or incident that moved us enough to get back to the faith. We all are reverts, in one way or the other. And this reversion of heart was nothing but an endowment from Allah. We didn’t do anything to deserve this endowment. It was Allah’s choice for us. And we must remember also that Ibliis was the right-hand man, long, long ago. His devotion and worship was unprecedented. As was his slip from righteousness to self-righteousness: I am better than him. From being “Taoous al Malaikah” – the Pride of the Angels – he literally descended to the level of being “Rajiim” – the Disgraced. The pride and plume of the peacock – the literal meaning of the word ‘Taoous’ – his hubris, was the very reason behind the disobedience, and the concomitant and consequent disgrace. We too should be aware of this narcissistic tendency lest we lose the glory of Guidance and Grace given to us, and become disgraced and misguided. Why do we forget that we all take our time to get to what WE believe is immaculate faith. So why the rush to make the “lesser” others revert with a wink of an eye or a raise of an eyebrow? Why the smugness that our faith is so immaculate that we challenge the faith of another?

A contention now might rightly arise about the commandment in our deen to Command Good and Forbid Wrong. How can one just stay quiet when s/he can see a fellow believer blatantly in error? Is that not selfish that you are in a state of salim satisfaction and you let others suffer in their ignorance? The real concern should be to remember:

O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former… How bad is it, to insult one’s brother after having Faith [i.e. to call your Muslim brother (a faithful believer) as: ‘O sinner,’ or ‘O wicked’]. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed Zalimun (wrong-doers) [49:11] 

Clearly, such condescending attitude has no place in the deen. If one admittedly believes, then s/he cannot and should not be belittled by another. Forbidding wrong and commanding good is all-good. But the way it is done today, the demeanor in which it is conducted is problematic. We are so quick to label the other person as “misguided”, “sinner”, “deviant”, and as we do that, we are reflexively comparing ourselves with the other. What we are essentially saying is this: you are not as guided as I am. Therefore you are misguided. And I am oh-so-well-guided. We project our preferences for others, meaning good, but we really mean to feel empowered. This polemical and often belligerent approach needs to be corrected. For those of us who subscribe to such a demeanor are being narcissistic about their belief. Ironically, we sought to correct someone’s faith; however, the attempt was not really to correct. But simply to feel good about the tenacity of our own faith. And during this whole process, we ended up making the other question their faith, and by looking at the face of religion that we are putting up so proudly, we have made the subject who was put under our omniscient microscope lose faith in religion, and in their self – even if it’s just a bit. Interestingly, even when Sayyidna Musa and Harun – peace upon them – were sent by Allah to correct Fir’aun, they were categorically asked to speak gently to him:

Go, both of you, to Fir’aun, verily, he has transgressed.

And speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear [Allah]. [20:43-44] 

Prophets were being told to speak gently and not to get combative with a tyrant like Fir’aun. We need to exercise greater caution, care and comfort in how we deal with others whose hearts we are seeking to win over. Several narrations from the Prophet – peace and blessings upon him – focus on the same idea: care and concern for fellow believers. This narration from Sayyidna ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar cannot be emphasized enough:

The Prophet of Allah – peace and blessings upon him – said, “The perfect Muslim is that from whose tongue and hand another Muslim is safe.” [Bukhari, Muslim]. It would be instructive to note that the words used for ‘safe’ in actual text of the narration are ‘salima’, and the mention of the tongue precedes that of the hand.

We are living in an age and time in which the easiest and most expedient thing to do is set yourself apart from the rest. In one way or the other, we are being compelled to focus on our differences. And this focus is doing nothing more but making the Muslim world and all its voices divisive and defiantly defensive. In the finality of the final analysis, what matters now is that Muslims really need to engage with Islam at a personal level, and focus on what unites us as Muslims – not what separates us. The hackneyed saying that Islam is perfect, Muslims are not is awfully trite, but also awfully true. Islam is correlated with clichés like terrorism, extremism, conservatism. Hardly anyone talks about the face of Islam which is caring and comforting. No one talks about Islam and love, Islam and care, Islam and peace, perhaps because Muslims are showing none to each other. Charity, really begins at home. We are just comfortable with our own self-celebration. And, like pretty much everything else, even Muslims are picking petty battles of power. That really was not the point of Islam and its spread. The goal of Islam – the ultimate and immaculate Favor of Allah – was to spread peace through submission. If Islam is the Favor of Allah, and this submission is to Him alone, then why the fuss?

Allah has not put for any man two hearts inside his body…[33:4] 

Narcissist was condemned to become a flower only after he stooped so low in his self-love. He deluded himself into believing that he alone mattered, he alone was enough. His desperate attempt to love his own image brought about his own downfall. Shaytan had the same fate. As did Fir’aun. As did Bani Israeel. As do Muslims now. Rooted in narcissism is arrogance. And arrogance was the first wrong which could never set things right again. And from it rippled the whole pool of what we call wrong.

In Islam, like in love, there is no room for self-love. Either you love Allah, or you love another – and in most cases, you love your ‘self’. The heart can just house One Love. No other. And all of us who claim to be Muslims, who claim to believe and be faithful to our faith, have already made that precious claim to love no other but Him.

Hajrah Khan

About the author

Hajrah Khan is a thinker and English Language and Literature teacher at a leading private school in Lahore, Pakistan

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  1. You’re not a fan of the retro punk-rock band REM, are you?

  2. Salam sister Hajirah,

    Just finished reading your latest article ‘Losing our Religion’.

    I find that your the case made against narcissist tendencies in religion to be spot on. This is the kind of debate that has been long-awaited for. The articulation made regarding the ‘God Complex’ of religious ‘clerics’ is a refreshing reminder of the truth on the ground. It, undoubtedly, provides its readers with a breath of fresh air in midst of the bigoted discourse prevalent today. The epistemological paradox of ‘We’ v ‘You’ is an absolute treat to read. Well done sister Hajirah for bringing into light a discourse which has been in the dark shadows of ‘fear’ and ‘taboo’ for much too long.

    I, however, take serious exception to the choice of lyrics used as a prelude to what follows (That’s why they are called lyrics and not poetry). My concern is well-founded and based on a quarter of a century’s life spent in the England and the US (particularly Seattle) and I have thus been in the thick of these things, with information that is first-hand.

    Using the lyrics of a UK-based, Punk-Rock band, Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M.), which themselves are narcissists, apart from being proven agnostics, anarchists and notorious followers of new-age religion is, putting it politely, paradoxical to the theme of the article itself – viz. the need to revitalize Islam among the Muslim masses snarled through and through by the ‘clerics’ with all the bells and whistles and mumbo jumbo. R.E.M, a three-member band of self-confessed agnostics, have lost their own religion and are now in a state that qualifies as what Psychoanalysts call a disorder of identity crisis. The message in their songs is not about the revival of creed. It rather typifies anarchy, a trademark of new-agers, that has been researched extensively and exhaustively by many. Where does it lead us unwitting Muslims to? There was a phase in this metamorphosis when R.E.M were so obsessed with feminism that they released a single, ‘crush with eyeliner’.

    But R.E.M are not alone in facing this genre of crisis. Allow me to quote the names of a few other singles from bands, both British and American, encountering similar idiosyncrasies. ‘Pink Flloyd’s’ fame skyrocketed when they released their single ‘We don’t need no education’. The American underground Satanic music took it to the next level. ‘Nirvana’ became mainstream with singles such as ‘Smells like teen spirit’, ‘Rape Me’, ‘Territorial Pissings’, ‘Floyd the Barber’ and ‘Polly’, followed by ‘Stone Temple Pilots’ single ‘S*x type thing’. There are numerous examples of such subliminal narcissism and satanic music genre. ‘Guns’ N Roses’ even sung ‘I don’t care about you, f**k you’ and ‘Alice in Chains’ wanted to ‘Blow up the outside world’! Most of these ‘music icons’ actively and candidly either practice or advocate homosexuality too.

    The question, therefore, is that have decent poets and poetry become so obsolete that we now have to quote lyrics from trash to express our opinions on religion? By the way, Nirvana’s lead singer, Curt Cobain, committed suicide in 1994 and his widow, Courtney Love, is now the lead singer of an all-women, punk-rock band named ‘Hole’!

    Make no mistake this has more to do with your choice of lyrical content rather than religious outlook, which by the way is an impeccable piece of writing, hitting the nail on its head. An absolute gem of a thesis, that analyses, discusses, evaluates and then concludes on all the right reasons.

    I guess, however, that some degree of sanity needs to prevail when selecting lyrics (poetry) and positive thought ought to be put into the process of selecting lyrical (preferably poetic) content that would reach and potentially influence the naive public at large.

  3. Salam,

    Br Raza! I never knew you know so much about modern western music, its trends, etc.
    Your comments are appropriate, and along with this article of sister Hajira, should be disseminated at a wider scale.

    The fallacy of modern culture viz true Islam is to be highlighted to remove doubts and clear the confusion.

  4. JazakAllah Khairan for such a beautifully written article…We are all guilty of narcissism at some stage in our lives:( May Allah SWT give us tafakur and Tadabur to understand our deen ameen soom amen great job

    Just love your way of writing…

  5. I completely agree that self-love is a problem facing us. But it isn’t the only problem. You haven’t really answered why people are leaving religion.

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