From Self-Realization to and Self-Annihilation(posting for our newest blogger from South Africa)
I am a South African Muslim, writer, performer, Black Consciousness activist and member of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa. For obvious reasons, the issue of identity is a very serious one in South Africa. In the effort to engage in what Stephen Bantu Biko referred to as “an inward-looking process of self-definition”, and define myself as a Muslim of indigenous African descent, I wrote the article below, which appeared in Al-Qalam in 2003.
FROM SELF-REALIZATION TO AND SELF-ANNIHILATION
“I am a Muslim first and a Muslim last.” This is often the response of some passionate lovers of Islam when asked whether their primary identity is that of the socio-cultural group they belong to or that of being a Muslim. I agree that all identities other than that of being human and Muslim are artificial and arbitrarily arrived at identities. They are historical, cultural and social constructs in the sense that they are results of a socialization process. The Qur’an makes this succinctly clear when it emphasizes that the origin of the humanity is a single soul – a non-gendered being which cannot be defined in racial, ethnic or any sectarian and jingoistic terms. Other than products of society, human beings are essentially and intrinsically Muslims. The Prophet of Islam unambiguously reaffirmed the intrinsic Muslimness of all Humanbeings when he declared that every child is born a Muslim but is turned into a Christian or a Jew by society.
However, you cannot reclaim your Muslim self (you primary being) outside the context of the social-cultural-political situation in which you find yourself. You cannot come into grips with you primary being when you’re not in touch with the socio-cultural self, your secondary being. Yet you have to come into contact with your essential being (your Muslimness, your God-Conscious Self) to comprehend the nature and the limits and de-limits of your secondary self. The prophet Ebrahim (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) interrogated his socio-cultural self for him to transcend the belief system prevalent in his society, and arrive at the Ultimate Truth -The oneness and Unity of Allah.
The prophet Muhammad (SAW) had a thorough grasp of the dynamics and workings of the Meccan society. He arrived at the straight path after he had critically interrogated the Kufr system and embarked on a soulful search and deliberate journey for the rediscovery of the religion of Ebrahim (AS). The prophet SAW) did not have to deny his Meccan origin to move beyond the knowledge-and-belief system of the Mecca of the times of Jahiliya. Until the Hijra, the prophet operated within Mecca, but knew that his mission transcended the borders. He did not have to speak in tongues and live outside society to prove that his message transcended linguistic and socio-cultural barriers. He spoke in Arabic but delivered a universal message. He lived in Mecca and Medina but lived for the whole of humanity. His immediate recruits were his kindred (Khadeeja, the wife, Abu Bakr the friend, and Ali the nephew), but his ultimate brethren and companions were a microcosm of the whole of humanity (Bilal the Abysinian, Salman the Persian, etc). Mecca was his point of departure, but the world was his target.
The township is my abode, blackness is my experiential reality, the world is my space and Islam is the way I have chosen to guide my conduct in the time and space I live in. I chose to re-embrace my intrinsic Muslimness when I declared the Kalima in 1986, and I chose to re-affirm my Blackness in 1981 when I embraced the philosophy of Black Consciousness. I had to grapple with the particularities and peculiarities of being Black in rural, township and suburban South Africa \ Azania and in an obnoxious world obsessed with race and class. In that process of self-definition and self-searching I ultimately came into contact with the way of achieving wholeness by dissolving the self into the vast ocean of the ultimate reality- Allah.
I found complete submission to the will of God as a means of finding inner peace and a way towards world peace and justice, or maybe I should say Islam found me. I did not have to be oblivion to the poetics of blackness for me to be conscious of the beauty of being Muslim. I did not have to be oblivion of the poetics and esoterics of being Muslim for me to be conscious of the beauty of being Black. Islam was not there to uproot me from where I am. Islam was there to make me grounded on whom I am, and give me a sense of being and belonging. To make me aware that what I was made to believe is all I can be is not all I could be-that there are no limits to extends to which the heart, soul, and mind of a person can grow except being the ultimate reality. In Islam I learned to embrace myself as I am but to remember that I am not the end in myself. I embraced Islam informed by the Black Language and Culture that calls bending in knees and kneeling down in prostration humility rather than meekness. I re-embraced my Blackness but reaffirmed the intrinsic beauty and nobleness of all humanity.
I re-embraced the ethos of Ubuntu and re-committed myself to the principles enshrined in the institution of lekgotla and imbizo when I committed myself to live in accordance with the principles of Ukhuwa and Shura. I embraced Islam informed by the Township experience, but willing to move from experience to consciousness to the changing of experience and the re-focusing of the mind from experiential reality to the Ultimate Reality…. ALLAH! ALLAH! ALLAH! ALLAH!
The point I am trying to make is that Islam is a universal way of Life is practiced in society and not in a vacuum. You do not have to be a social and cultural exile to be a Muslim. The message of Islam as articulated by the Qur’an, and embodied in the traditions of the prophet started at a particular place, in a particular time, and its immediate recipients were a particular people. Yet Islam was, is and shall remain the message for all ages, and the way of life chosen by Allah for all humanity, relevant and practical in all places. The Qur’an and the Sunnah addressed the issues of the time but presented the message for all times. It captured the spirit of time and place but transcended time and place.
This is the paradox of our life. We live within time and place but are creators of time and space. All of us speak, walk, talk, and live in a specific environment that shapes our language, movement, experiences and lifestyle. Yet, by virtue of us being human, we have the capacity to re-shape the environment, re-construct our experiences and change our reality. This is the paradox of our life. We are born in an environment yet we create the environment. We find ourselves in situations, but still we find situations.
The environment conceives our experiential reality. Our thoughts stem from our experiences, and our actions spring from our thoughts.
Yet, we make our environment, interpret, and therefore give shape and form to our experiences. We decide our actions and therefore choose our reality and destiny. We live within an environment but have the potential rise above that environment and create a better environment for ourselves and generations to follow.
To speak in such a way that your talk is in tandem with your walk, it is imperative that become part of the living experience of the environment that informs your thoughts, and inspire you actions. Speaking, talking, living, experience, thoughts and action take place within a particular environment. It is the environment that shapes language, movement and action. But our thoughts can bring new ideas, and our actions can change the world. In short, the human being is an agent of change, and not a slave of history, environment and tradition. The Qur’an is very straightforward in making it a responsibility of human beings to change their world. It also stresses that the starting point of the efforts of human being to re-order their reality should be transforming themselves. “Allah will not change the conditions of a people until they change themselves”
* Motjholoko is a person undergoing initiation and transformation into a healer \ ngaka (doctor in Sesotho) and a mediator between the material and spiritual world through a process known in Sesotho as ho thwasa (ukuthwasa in the Nguni languages), meaning “to become”. The initiated person completes the killing of the flesh in a night vigil ritual that involves drumming, singing, chanting and trance-dances.