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.

Exiting My Own Vampire (Sand) Castle

For Ramadan, I decided, along with food and drink, to fast from Twitter.

I use Instagram sometimes, but I don’t scroll much. Its icon is hidden in a folder on my phone and I have a 15-minute daily limit enabled. I deleted Facebook in 2012. But Twitter was really my place. Short-form information, headlines, jokes, all of that. It first caught my interest before leaving for the Peace Corps. An acquaintance from San Barbara was serving in Guyana. He was able to tweet on a basic Nokia using SMS to a specific number. I must have deleted my account before leaving for Sierra Leone because I didn’t use it during my time there. But I signed up again on the road in Guinea after my service. Coming home, I saw that we were all living inside the smartphone epoch. Before I left, I could count the number of people who owned an iPhone on one finger. When I returned and boarded a train from Portland to Los Angeles, I was practically alone with my newspaper, book, and magazine on actual paper.

I used some of my readjustment allowance to buy an iPhone 4S and Twitter was one of the first apps I downloaded. I enjoyed hearing from and having (para)/social interactions with people in the African studies/geopolitics world. It provided some escapism during my five months back home, unemployed and transformed from an intense 27 months.

But Twitter, my relationship to it, and the world are all very different now. My attention span is much shorter (it was already pretty short). I’m older, less relativist in my ideology. The president is equally…

Justifying my continued usage fluctuated depending on the argument; it’s a news source, a way to stay engaged, or an amplification tool from people not connected to media or hegemonic cultural gatekeepers. Whatever the downsides to it that were presented, I had a reason to hand-wave it away.

But my presence on Twitter has intensified in the last few months. During the quarantine, sure, but especially during the democratic primary season with Bernie Sanders; those heady days after the Nevada caucus when, astonishingly, it looked as though an open socialist could take over a party of capitalists, who have only triangulated themselves in recent years in their opposition to the odious president. I admit it, we got a little carried away, thinking the split neoliberal centrist politicians would not be able to cohere and stop Sanders, and it was extremely enjoyable to revel in that online with others who felt the same. That feels like years ago, and looking back on it, also naïve to think it was a possibility.

I have five-minute breaks between classes; short enough to not really be able to accomplish anything. So I’d check the timeline. Or in the afternoons when I was working on a website, I’d dip in practically as a reflex.

I took this post’s title (and played with it) from a Mark Fisher essay about online leftist drama, which is what inspired my reevaluation the day before Ramadan anyways. As is usually the case, it does not directly correlate, but is still a good read. Essentially, it’s disheartening to watch the cannibalization of prominent leftist voices over what I believe to very specious accusations. As Matt Christman from Chapo pointed out on a long-winded talk recently, Twitter is structurally incapable of actually resolving conflicts and coming to consensus. It incentivizes dog-piling and taking a maximalist position on any issue for performative reasons.

So, Twitter and I are on a break for Ramadan.

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.

2 Ramadan 1441: True Piety, Neither East nor West, and An Economic System

One of my favorite ayat comes in the second juz’. It is a description of piety according to the Qur’an. Many wrestle with the tension between what we say we are and what we do. For instance, theoretician David Graeber defines anarchism is something one does, rather than how one self-identifies in the world. This is the same with the individual and collective system the Qur’an proposes. It synthesizes the monotheistic headspace, or openness to the possibilities of the unseen, with right actions needed to bring more justice into the world:

Piety is not to turn your faces towards the east and the west, but pious is the one who believes in God and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Books, and the prophets, and he gives money out of love to the relatives, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and those who ask, and to free the slaves; and he carries out the communion, and contributes towards purification; and those who keep their pledges when they make a pledge, and those who are patient in the face of adversity and hardship and when in despair. These are the ones who have been truthful, and these are the righteous. [2:177]

I used to read G.A. Parwez a bit. His book Islam: A Challenge to Religion became a necessary catalyst for me to feel free to explore the intersections of history, hagiography, and Islamic orthodoxy in a way I never felt comfortable doing in Mauritania. Highly influential in Pakistan as well with the Islamic socialist bloc and Qur’an-centric movement, Parwez elucidated upon this verse in his Exposition of the Holy Qur’an:

According to the divine law, the essential purpose of deen (way of life) is not fulfilled by a mechanical performance of rituals e.g., turning eastwards or westwards during salat (ritual prayer), but requires:

  1. Eiman (conviction) (belief) in Allah; in the Law of Mukafat (retribution); in the life hereafter; in malaika; in anbiya (prophets) and in the books revealed through the anbiya (2:4), and
  2. Following from the above the establishment of a system in which resources are made available to help those who: are left without protection or support in society; lose their means of livelihood or are incapacitated to work; and cannot earn enough to meet their needs. This system will also provide assistance to those outsiders who, while passing through its territory, become indigent, and arrange for the liberation of slaves from bondage.

In brief then, you should establish a system wherein members of the society adhere to the divine laws voluntarily and means of development are provided to all who need them. You should honor your promises and commitments. If hostile forces confront you, then face them with steadfastness and fortitude, and do not let fear and despair weaken you.

Those who follow this party unswervingly vindicate their claim to be true believers and they can rightfully claim to be upholders of divine laws (rather than those who claim to inherit heaven by observing certain rites which they claim is deen (religion; way of life).

When people think of Islam, many automatically think of the rituals, the things we “can’t” do such as eat pork or drink alcohol.

Very little is said about the prescription of social unity, of solidarity amongst all people, of uplifting the most oppressed in societies. Many factors are responsible for this. The nominal Muslim states, mostly theocracies which have no basis in Islam, do not preach these values strongly enough, especially ones who allow stoning or other un-Qur’anic practices; Muslim communities themselves, in the Muslim world or abroad, focus much more social importance, and pressure, on the rituals and advocate a political quietism; and the the swing of anti-colonial resistance that currently manifests with “Islamic” justification in the form of terrorism fuels fear and nonstop media coverage.

When one approaches the Qur’an with false preconceptions of what Islam is, in the light of a post-9/11 global geopolitics, they will find plenty to validate their claims. But approach it with a curiosity and open mind and heart, and one will see something different entirely. When I allowed others to color my theology, I walked around with contradictions that I could not hold up. Perhaps we all need to drop the intermediaries, where ever we encounter them, and head back to the Source.

Most of them only follow conjecture. While conjecture does not avail against truth in anything… [10:35]

1 Ramadan 1441: Back, Turning Toward the Opening

It is You alone… [1:5]

The morning fog burned off quickly and the sun was already high when I stepped outside. The bugs hovered, dancing on the yard where Alqo naps in our small yard. The light hit the grass in an ethereal way, hidden for a few days behind storm clouds that never unleashed themselves over us. This will be a different day.

I’ve been away from the fasting feeling; my stomach hasn’t known hunger pangs for awhile. To tell the truth, it didn’t experience them the last time this auspicious month came around in Germany. I was at the tail-end of a theological detox, though spiritually and experientially quite satirized and inflated, without any of the underpinnings of organized faith.

More sure of myself and my surroundings, I approached this month with the hope of a restart. Being disconnected from society by both choice and and now circumstances, I’ve become so grateful in our household’s rhythms; the morning bread, after-work lunch watching re-runs of Friends, the walks in the woods, reading time in my hammock, watching my partner tend her small garden, eating almost vegan save for a few of the neighbors’ eggs.

Surely, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences between the night and the day, and the ships that sail in the sea for the benefit of the people, and what God has sent down of water from the sky so He brings the earth back to life after it had died, and He sent forth from it every creature, and the dispatching of the winds and the clouds that have been commissioned between the earth and the sky are signs for a people who comprehend. [2:164]

The signs that lead us around this earth, that point the way to this or that action, the coincidences that occur all throughout, the current, constrained environment, this first day of Ramadan is a reminder of whence they originated. Now, Providence has given us the opportunity to test out Pascal’s diagnosis of humanity’s problems, turn inwards, probe our assumptions about how the world is to be structured, rethink our relationship to the Earth, to each other, and in doing so, to the One who brought all of this about.

So I’ll turn inward. Ramadan mubarak to all.