Saturday, January 08, 2005

Letting go... Into free fall

As salaam 'alaikum

Since this is my first blog, let me begin with a brief introduction before my actual post (below).

I am South African and regard myself as a 'progressive Muslim' activist. I know some bloggers here are not happy with that label. That's cool with me. A very good friend (who thinks he is a 'progressive Muslim') refuses to acknowledge me as such. He prefers to think of me as a 'reactionary progressive'. Quite frankly, I'm not unhappy with that label either. Whatever works (and sometimes, even if it doesn't).

I am a member of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, the leading progressive Muslim organisation in this country, around for about 35 years. Most of the well-known progressive Muslim names from South Africa that you might have heard have come out of the MYM, or spent some time in the organisation (often in its leadership). This list includes fellow blogger Farid Esack (who later betrayed us by leaving the MYM and forming the Call of Islam), Ebrahim Moosa, Sa'diyyah Shaikh, Abdulkader Tayob, Shamima Shaikh, and others who might be less well-known.

Zabalaza is an isiZulu word meaning struggle - the isiZulu equivalent, I guess, of Jihad.

This, my first blog, is my understanding of the fundamental basis of "zabalaza" for a progressive Muslim. (This blog has been published in the January issue of the MYM's newspaper Al-Qalam.)

Ps: Not that you should be interested, but in case you are ... My real name is Na'eem Jeenah

The Dreamworld theme park in Brisbane, Australia has, on one of its rides, the tallest free fall ride in the world. I saw a brochure for the Giant Drop recently when I was in Brisbane. Although I drove past it, I didn’t get the opportunity to take the ride myself, even though I would have loved to.

As I read the brochure advertising the ride and showing pictures of people’s expressions as they fell through the air, I thought that this is exactly how I would like my relationship with Allah to be; for me the ideal relationship with my Creator would be a Giant Drop.

I guess it’s a little strange associating a theme park ride with the bond one would like to have with Allah, but it is the act of surrender on such a ride that impresses me. People get onto the ride, and after being lifted vertically 120m into the air, their car hangs suspended from the top. Just before they fall into space, in a moment that seems like hours, they wait with great anticipation and some apprehension. But, most importantly, they open themselves in surrender and hand their lives over to gravity (and the Giant Drop).

And, as the car begins to "plummet a knuckle-twisting 120-metres at terminal speed", they realise that they have absolutely no control. They have no power over their bodies or their lives; they are simply no longer in charge. A force external to them now determines the next few seconds and, perhaps, the rest of their lives. Then the drop ends and they feel again as if they are in control. But are they?

The ultimate and most important realisation for us is that we are not in charge – of anything. That it is only Allah who has real control, that only He has power over the universe and over our lives. And the most important challenge for every Muslim is whether one can live one’s entire life as if one is hurtling down the Giant Drop.

Can I live my life as if I am not in control? Can I live my life having handed over its destiny to The Other? Can I live my life having complete trust and reliance on The One external to me (Who, at the same time, is The One that is the deepest part of me)?

The belief in tawhid, in the oneness and omnipotence and sovereignty of Allah, demands that I at least try. It demands that I live my life in a constant endeavour to hand it over to Him. But, in case this sounds like I’m asking myself to sacrifice everything and lose out, let’s be clear that far from losing out, this means that I will gain enormously. Indeed, I will attain a oneness with the universe and with its Creator.

Yes, it is a demand for utter and complete reliance on and trust in Allah. It is a demand for the absolute dependence on Allah, so that we might experience complete and utter independence from the creatures of Allah. It is not a simple demand for enslavement but for ultimate liberation.

It is like the liberation one would experience on the Giant Drop, a seeming enslavement to the force of gravity which, actually, is liberation from the other forces that keep one wanting to feel safe and on solid ground. Anyone who has witnessed or been observing from afar the aftermath of the recent tsunamis from Sumatra to Somalia will know that standing on solid ground is no guarantee of safety. Nor is a dependence on the creatures of Allah – neither in this world nor in the hereafter. The only dependence that keeps one safe (for eternity) is the total and comprehensive dependence on The One who is Independent.

It is not only an acknowledgement of this fact that is demanded of us by our affirmation of the shahadah. Our shahadah also requires that every act we engage in is an act that will take us closer to our liberation and, thereby, closer to our enslavement. It provides a yardstick by which we measure all aspects of our lives.

When we celebrate the ‘I’d al-adha later this month, it is to commemorate this liberation of Nabi Ibrahim, his son Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar.

This idea of enslavement only to Allah and its consequent liberation from this world was explained centuries ago by a companion of the Prophet (s) Raba’i bin ‘Amr. He was asked by Rustum, Commander-in-Chief of the Persian army, “For what purpose have you come?” Raba’i replied, “Allah has sent us to bring anyone who wishes, from the servitude to human beings into the service of Allah alone, from the narrowness of this world into the vastness of this world and the hereafter, from the tyranny of religions into the justice of Islam.”

It is because of such a notion of liberation and enslavement that the Prophet (s), it is reported, said, “Poverty leads to a rejection of belief.” Poverty, after all, is the greatest factor to lead to the self-enslavement to the creatures of Allah. How can one afford to be dependent only on Allah when one’s stomach and the stomachs of one’s children are empty every night? Our task, then, is, on the one hand, to let go of our lives completely to Allah and, on the other, to engage in the struggle that will remove the impediments for ultimate liberation for all other people - whether poverty, imperialism, racism, patriarchy...

Anyone who has been to a theme park and tried some of the more daring rides would know, it takes guts to try the Giant Drop. It takes even more courage to convince ourselves to release ourselves from our dependence on this world and to hand over our beings to Allah. It takes enormous courage to just let go, completely and utterly let go and feel yourself falling, with no control over the fall but with the sure knowledge that no matter how big the drop and no matter how long, Allah will catch you at the bottom (or even before the bottom).

3 comment(s):

  • Ahhhh... Na'eem:

    Salaam. Come over to our side, then, have you? Good to see you here.

    Khuda hafiz,

    By Blogger Bobbe, at 1/08/2005 02:40:00 AM  

  • Salaams Na'eem

    Nice to read your post. I always like reading what you have to say.

    I am also rather uncomfortable with the 'progressive' label, but only because there are so many 'liberals' who use it - people who think Islam is (singing to the James Brown tune) 'Living in A-mer-i-ca!' The kind of people who think 2.7 billion people live on less than a dollar a day is just Gods way of distributing wealth!

    I agree with the big drop thing, but with provisos. I think it is worth spending some time ascending to the summit - learning. That's not as straightforward as it used to be. There are some serious unresolved issues which are of this time - patriarchy being the main one, in my view.

    There is also the problem of which Islam? Is Salafi Islam okay. A perusal of writers like Khaled Abou El Fadl is likely to turn anyone off Salafism for life! Then there is the Net, with all its heterogenous versions of Islam, from Tulu-e-islam to online Sufism (you can receive Baraka online from Canada) to Hizb-ur-tahrir. So which ones are 'true', or are they all versions of the same truth?

    I also think that people like me, living in the global North, face a huge propoganda wall with regards to understanding what kind of world we live in. Not much colonialism on our National Curriculum, I'm afraid! Not much chance of working for social justice if your understanding of society and the planet is half-baked.

    For example, as a result of the tsunami, the fact that affluent nations frequently renegade on their pledges to the UN is making headlines here. Erm, not exactly news, really, if you have an interest in global poverty. But it is news to most Brits!

    Those are my thoughts for this evening...



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 1/08/2005 01:11:00 PM  

  • As-salamu alaikum.
    Nice to see another muslim blog.
    Keep it up.

    By Blogger Striver, at 1/09/2005 05:49:00 AM  

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