The Lotus Blossoms v.2In the Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace
In the last week or two, there’s been a fair amount of synchronicity going on: the kind where you have an idea playing on your mind and that same idea keeps jumping up over and over in everyday life. The focal point of this preoccupation has been agnosticism, and even atheism. It’s not that I feel any doubt about God’s Reality – the light burning inside me is too bright to ignore, even with my back to it and my sight dulled by a hundred demons and distractions. No, my reflections have centred more on the cultures of irreligion and the beauty that exists there.
I believe the Mercy of Allah extends into every nook and cranny of humanity, even into the seediest hang outs and the most disturbed minds. As it says on the tombstone of the bipolar poet Sylvia Plath, ‘Even in the fiercest flames, the lotus blossoms.’ And it’s not just the lives of the deserving poor and the unwittingly oppressed I’m on about; it also the stories of people like Jean Genet, thief and homosexual prostitute; the world of punk Muslims celebrated by Muhammad Knight; and the unruly meanderings of the infamous and never-to-be-famous non-conforming non-entities who see themselves primarily as survivors in this often perplexing journey towards the grave.
And I wonder, surely God’s love is not reserved solely for those who pray a lot and fill their lives with good deeds? Just as there are those who bang their head on the floor and feed their egos with their piety and charitable acts, so I surmise there are people who draw God’s light into their lives without offering so much as a word of thanks, but rather refresh their souls with an ethic which is very close to who and where they are. And when I was younger, it was this sense that drew me to people who are amoral and decadent and irreligious perhaps because the beauty in these dark places shines that much brighter with the contrast.
Make no mistake, I feel no sympathy, nor any sense of the touch of the hand of God, in the lives of those who draw their strength through exercising power over others, whether it be over their sexual partners, or children, or their employees or juniors, or in high politics. It is not the exploiters or abusers or monkeys sitting on top rock I empathise with - no way! It’s the anti-heroes – the tramps, the travellers, the illegal aliens, the drug abusers, the petty criminals, the prostitutes, the hash-headed hippies, the benefit scroungers, the unwanted flotsam and jetsam of life.
What has honed this no doubt romantic fascination with subcultures is the darkly comic thriller Buffalo Soldiers, directed by Gregor Jordan and starring Joaquin Phoenix. Set in a US Army base in West Germany during the weeks surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, Phoenix plays Ray Ellwood, a battery clerk come drug pushing thief, with Ed Harris as the ineffectual base commander and the perfect foil for the street wise, lovable rogue Ellwood. To be honest, I can't remember when I last fell so completely in love with a film, and I find myself rewatching it and keenly anticipating the magical lines and delicious twists in the outrageous plot.
Celebrating subcultures is important because it allows difficult issues to be explored and dirty washing to be aired without a sense of disgrace. Thankfully, there are signs that British Muslims are alerting themselves to this moral sensibility. Last week, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, recently the centre of controversy over a play depicting scenes of sexual abuse in a Gudwara, is to show Bells, written by Anglo-Pakistani writer Yasmin Whittaker-Khan. Bells deals with Muslim women trapped in the sex trade, including British Asian sex clubs known as mujras.
So little is known about this issue that Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain claimed he had never heard of mujras before this play's script was previewed in the press. Neither had I. Let's hope this work of drama opens the doors to other Muslim worlds we need to hear more about.
Allah knows better.