E-Crises and Andidotes, All the Way Down

If you’re an American and in any way invested in the political system and political developments, then you are probably in your own e-crisis…

A few days ago I was washing dishes and listening to a podcast from the Trillbilly Workers’ Party.

I started listening to them this year, during Spain’s lockdown, when I’d take Alqo into the woods for a momentary escape. Hosted by Tanya, Tom, and Tarence from Appalachia, Kentucky (Tarence is a transplant from New Mexico), their perspectives as three marxists from a rural and conservative area are illuminating. Every so often, they reference the e-crisis, or epistemological crisis, that haunts the United States.

A crisis or knowledge. We cannot agree on basic, foundational knowledge or facts in the political, social, or religious realms. With heightened stakes for progress (societal and perhaps planetary survival) from pandemics, rising acceptance of authoritarianism, climate inaction, and many of us being ‘more online’ than ever, we’ve entered a new phase on how we relate to each other and the wider world. Obviously, disagreement spans centuries and geography, but the last decade’s technological and algorithmic advancements have given us our own finely-tuned informational vacuum that is not shared with even our closest neighbors.

We, the United States, with all our social and economic contradictions might be at the stage of the Weimar or late Roman republics. I say this knowing full well my own family does not see it like that. Granted, I tend to speak in extremes. Am I seeing something differently, (or missing something) because I live abroad?

But I also see the e-crisis in myself. I’m more annoyed and sarcastic when I scroll through Twitter in my morning. Why? Because all the outrage and governmental ineptitude is on full display right when I wake up. There’s no joy filter I can turn on. I just have to muster the willpower to log off.

Before I though of this crisis as collectivized, generalized. I had not considered to think deeply about my own internal epistemological crisis.

In this particular episode, one of the hosts, Terence, started dissecting the 21st century Marxist motto “A better world is possible”. He questioned this:

We’re constantly in this space where we think we can change the world, philosophically, … but we know deep down, empirically, that we can’t. That’s the e-crisis. It’s the space between those two things.

He continued by saying that some days he wakes up feeling inspired and optimistic about the future. If we keep on working towards something positive and democratic and for the benefit of all, good things will start happening. But other days, he wakes up with the grim thought that there’s not much those of us who hold no power or sway over large institutions can do.

The contradictions are stacking up, but for all we see with what’s happening (specifically in the United States), it is not producing the mass discontent, radicalization, and organizational action of people needed to overthrow the capitalist system. So Tarence ended his monologue with:

It would probably behoove you to get into religion, some sort of spiritual practice, or something.

From previous episodes and an article about them in the Bitter Southerner, I know that two of the Tarence and Tom are ex-Christians.

As with any book or podcast that’s meaningful to me, I started reflecting on my own trajectory over the last few years. In Mauritania and Mexico I had turned away from the (neo)-traditionalist form of Islam that seemed solid to me. In the end, I could square the legalist, non-mystical, and non-materialist framing that the celebrity imams and my Mauritanian friends seemed convinced of with my reading of the Qur’an and Islamic history. Even though I was relatively late to the party, I chafed at the sectarianism online and offline. But really, I was only rebelling against my own shaky conceptions of what it meant to be Muslim.

I had read a good deal about Sufism but did not consider myself one. My first encounter with Islam was through Rumi at university. I had never felt the ineffable mystical experience that the spiritual masters and poets described until my night with the chakruna in Peru.

That night healed my broken heart for the dīn, that way of life given to us by The One That is Closer to Us Than Our Jugular Veins and elucidated by the prophets since the first Homo sapiens, willingly adopted as my own. It also gave me the drive to start opening up about things that I consider incredibly complex and important. I don’t have all the answers obviously, and perhaps I’m wrong about many things. But I have enjoyed the path.

But if I’m being honest, I have become distracted from the ineffable. I externalized my peace of mind and happiness into the material with the Bernie campaign, wishing for improvements that might never come. I’m probably not alone. But with getting older, reading closely the arc of history and progressive movements. Sometimes the shoe never drops. I could live out the rest of my days with the anticipation of the sudden collapse of the global financial capitalist system that never comes. Tarence wasn’t suggesting religion to move away from fighting those necessary battles; racial injustice, the climate emergency, the neo-fascists. He was giving us a bigger anchor to hold on to.

I look to the Qur’an and Islam as one might look to Jesus and Christianity to steady myself and see the long game. To read the allegories of the prophets and the pronouncements for me is to gain a larger, more cosmic perspective of things. In the end, Justice will be served. It is up to us and in the same way, not up to us.

After I finished the dishes, I picked up my copy of Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam? It was a field-changing book for Islamic Studies. I’m still in the introduction but in it, he picks apart the the conception of what is Islamic. Are wine-cups from the caliphs with Arabic inscriptions on them considered Islamic? Why do we consider the juridical perspectives of the great imams more Islamic than the philosophic-religion like Ibn Sina or Ibn ‘Arabi?

But it wasn’t necessarily the contents of the book that comforted me that night. It was the convergence of hearing someone remind us of the importance of a larger spiritual worldview to strengthen ourselves for the important materialist fight for earthly progress and an important scholar exploring what it really means to be Muslim, using examples of practices and people who are occasionally considered heterodox (outside of the fold of Islam) that lifted me.

It’s a silly example that can only make sense to me, with all the things rattling around in my head. But I’m sure there are others who have similar experiences of different stimuli that converge at the exact right moment they need them to produce a personal mini-breakthrough. I needed that this particular night.

My own e-crisis will remain, I’m sure. I can’t turn it off and dive so fully into my own surroundings and hobbies that I forget about what goes on outside my family, my tribe, my spiritual community, or country. But reframing my thinking and using a “larger anchor” that I had momentarily forgotten have gifted me more acceptance for what might come. And for that I am grateful.

14 Ramadan: Ignite the Divine Engine

People who have never tried fasting before are shocked to shocked to consider not eating or drinking all day. But it becomes easier as one moves through the month of Ramadan. A rhythm is introduced; perhaps different than normal. Maybe your sleep schedule is different. You find something else to do during lunchtime. I find the change itself beneficial, especially during the quarantine.

I’m still being a bit stubborn. Other years, I’ve given up coffee for the month. This year, I didn’t dare think of it. In the early morning, I drank a cup (usually it’s two) before having the leftover vegan pizza from the iftar last night along with dates, cashews, almonds, cranberries, and homemade soy yogurt.

Spain is deescalating the estado de alarma with a series of phases. Each phase lasts approximately two weeks and gives more freedom of mobility to individuals and businesses. By late June, if there isn’t another big outbreak, spain will have transitioned into la nueva normalidad. There are still fatalities from COVID-19, however.

Even though it’s the fourteenth day, the 13th part of the Qur’an has one of my favorite verses:

“God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves.“ [13:11]

People who are skeptical of any religion or supernatural/unexplained phenomena in the world constantly wring their heads about why God would allow poverty to exist. But we allow it to happen. All the conditions are there for us to eliminate this, if people awake from their materialistic, individualistic stupor. We are connected to each other, our earth, and everything else within creation. We have the technology and resources to do away with poverty and cancer. We simply do not act on this on a big enough scale for us to achieve utopia in the here and now.

On Lamp of Islam, I came across a great response to the question of the mosque-goers during the pandemic.

God, according to the Quran, is not an external entity/deity that is separate from everything. He works through His laws, manifested to our perceptions as laws of nature…

Though it is God who is the ultimate ‘doer’, it is through His agencies that He eventually actualizes His will to ‘do’ the things. On this particular occasion, when some people are dying from the coronavirus pandemic because of going to the mosques, the agencies involved in actualizing God’s will are mainly these people’s own irresponsible actions.

The Quran relentlessly calls on us to act, to remember the law of consequences and to live so consciously that we feel morally accountable for our own actions.

Read the full response, along with cross-referenced verses.

3 Ramadan 1441: Watch the Throne

Source: DeviantArt

The Qur’an’s third thirtieth part includes the powerful Verse of the Throne, which is often displayed in homes in beautiful calligraphic styles.

Allah! There is no God but He,
the Living, the Self-subsisting, the Eternal.
No slumber can seize Him, nor sleep.
All things in heaven and earth are His.
Who could intercede in His presence without His permission?
He knows what appears in front of and behind His creatures.
Nor can they encompass any knowledge of Him except what he wills.
His throne extends over the heavens and the earth,
and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them,
for He is the Highest and Most Exalted.[2:255]

A king’s symbol of authority is his throne. The kursī of God, however, can be interpreted as the knowledge of all that is.

Al-Mālik, the Sovereign, rules not by force, but through immutable natural laws, and through the global community of believers, Muslim or not, who adhere to the principles of justice and most accurately articulated in the Qur’an. After all, we are the vicegerents, the stewards, of Earth.

Belief and Dogma in These Times

An small anecdote. An eminent conservative traditionalist scholar of Islam from a certain country tweeted about their country’s mosques re: the coronavirus pandemic. In it, he stated that those coming to prayer must have gloves, a rug of their own, must not shake hands, and that it is not necessary to line up shoulder-to-shoulder. I glanced down and saw a reply:

May Allah reward you well…would you kindly provide evidence that “the worshipers do not have to line up and do not converge” in this case?

In this new era, where everyone will have to adapt in order to protect each other, someone is asking for evidence. Is there a precedent, I imagine a hadith, that is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that confirms this change in the prayer in extraordinary circumstances?

Here is an example, one but not unique, of the line of thinking that leads to dogmatic (and perhaps fatalistic) religious worldviews that secular people rightly cannot understand. I’m sure this person was being sincere, so maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. And I do not mean to paint with such a broad brush, but it is a sample of the conversations and experiences I’ve also experience in Muslim communities. I see this and worry a bit. Do we need evidence to keep our distance in practicing our faith without the worry or threat of contagion, endangering not just the men standing next to you but their families and anyone they come into contact with as well?

Belief doesn’t need to rely on looking back to old world thinking or an over-reliance on others. For me (because I always only speak for myself) it is an opening up to possibilities beyond the material and should aid in our progress towards an appropriate mission, caring for the material and spiritual needs of all creation. It brings confirmation that the human journey is much longer and deeper than what we experience it, not as some deviation from a more pious past.

Another anecdote. A different scholar, American, but no less traditionalist, tweeted regarding mosque closures in other countries. This is in response to someone sharing a link about why UK mosques have remained open:

In other times, it’s an amusement at best or a nuisance at worst to see ill-trained students from madrasahs try to flex their literalist muscles against critical thinking and common sense. Right now, this attitude will inevitably cause deaths and cannot be tolerated. Avoid socializing!

More rational, yet quite a few pushed back on and felt scholars and their institutions were being attacked.

This is why I have chosen to ‘self-quarantine’ myself from orthodoxy. This is why I have to look more closely and critically into the history, the power relations, the primary and spurious secondary sources of my adopted belief system much more than following personalities, also swayed by their education, yes, but by their own histories, reactions, and opinions to the times.

And this is what belief brings me. It brings me some sense of serenity (some, I say) to prepare for the oncoming of what the troika of crises (coronavirus, climate, capitalism) will bring about. It is spiritually lonely, I admit. But it squares with my reality much more than arguing about mosque closures. Talk to some Muslim women who have been boxed out of the mosque explicitly or otherwise for their entire lives and pray at home.

The Qur’an, the starting point and end point of Islam, is dynamic, filled with signs and admonitions to reflect upon. But it will only remain so in the hearts of dynamic, open-minded individuals who choose to prioritize it over the whims and opinions, however educated, of other humans. The times are strange and filled with uncertainty and disinformation.

And Indeed, We Are Returning

It is not easy nor comfortable to contemplate death. Some of us try to avoid the thought altogether. But this is our inevitable fate, a certainty.

We’re reminded, sometimes painfully, of our short time on Earth through the passing of a loved one. Or even someone not close to us.

We all have our different views on the finality of death. Some believe this corporeal life is just a momentary blip on the soul’s longer journey.

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when calamity strikes them, say, “Innā lillāhi wa ‘innā ilayhi rāji’ūn”. [2:155-156]

“Indeed, we belong to God, and indeed, toward Hu, we are returning.”