I actually started writing this at the beginning of June 2017 just before the UK General election on June 8th. My mantra at the time was Let June be the End of May. By the end of the month I was writing with a heavy heart and a weary soul and a troubled mind. In June we witnessed Terrorists attacks in Manchester, London Bridge, and Finsbury park, the fire at Grenfell Tower, stabbings in East London and then acid attacks in East London and up and down this country which leave me with a sense of panic and terror every single time, I venture outside my home. June also coincided with some of the first ten days of Ramadan as well as the middle ten days and the last ten days of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting as well as Eid ul Fitr the first Muslim Festival of the year. I am sure if you are a Londoner, June has felt like a roller coaster ride.
I started the month full of trepidation, wondering what will happen on June 9th as the country woke up to the election result. My heart prayed fervently for a Labour Party victory but my skeptical and cynical mind prepared itself for another five years of Tory (Conservative Party) Government because their substantial majority in Parliament seemed inevitable. I tried to console my heart. Yes another five years of Tory rule. My heart was weighed down with despair at the prospect of another five years of austerity and indeed my soul could not stomach it. My eyes desperately looked to a future but the future was clouded with a bleakness so foggy, I could not shake off this acute sense of hopelessness. Hopelessness is an emotion that I rarely feel. Unlike most of my friends who seemed so optimistic about a Labour Party win, I walked around aimlessly the few days before the election, literally dragging my feet. I tried in vain to dodge the gloom that really seemed to want to swallow me up and engulf me. I kept wondering where my usual sense of optimism had disappeared to. Maybe I had been infected with the realism or cynicism of the young people that I work with? Some of these young people are very resilient despite the trauma that they have suffered but I know they feel the despair and hopelessness I had only fleetingly felt, every waking hour of every day.
Of course this despair faded quickly and I was elated and filled with joy and hope on the morning of June 9th. Seeing Jeremy Corbyn smile and celebrate his victory and defy so many people was a sheer sight for my sore eyes. I was particularly pleased about the fact that the Labour Party had secured 40% of the overall vote. I really enjoyed the dismay and shock of TV Presenters, Journalists, as well as countless Politicians and so called Experts who tried to grapple with the astonishing result. I could not hide my glee seeing their confusion that this reviled and distrusted politician was so popular among the people.
I was not confused. The result showed that it is the Establishment that the people distrust now. My mind was filled with a peace and tranquillity that it has not experienced in a long time. My heart suddenly was not shadowed with a hopelessness that seemed to cloud my every day endeavours. I felt elated at the truth that people can change things. Corbyn’s win symbolised for me the truth that Hope always prevails over Fear. Truth always wins over Lies. For me the Tory Election Campaign and the Labour Party Election Campaign strikingly showed that while the former relied on preying on people fears, the latter relied on appealing to people’s humanity and instilling hope. The contrast could not be starker. In the run up to the election I found it surreal how the two leaders differed in how they engaged with voters. One looked human, warm and compassionate. The other looked exhausted, robot like and distant. No matter what your politics, you could not deny that one looked human and the other indifferent.
On June 9th my faith in humanity was restored. Indeed with Brexit and the Election of Trump, I had gradually been losing my faith in human beings and their good nature. I felt I suddenly inhabited a world where hate, fear, greed and selfishness seemed to dominate. Indifference to suffering whether it be towards the poor, the homeless, the refugees, the criminal in this country or those children struggling in Calais, the countless refugees in Europe and all over the world, seemed to infect most people. But on the morning of June 9th I would have danced on the streets if I had not been fasting. Instead I kept singing the song from the Musical Les Miserables adapted to the stage by Cameron Mackintosh based on Victor Hugo’s book: Les Miserables.
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of Angry men?
They are the people
Who will not be slaves again?
It seems such a long time ago we felt that joy and hope. However it is only now July. All these things did not happen really that long ago. But so much happened in June 2017! However maybe like you, what haunted me the most and affected me deeply and profoundly, was Grenfell Tower. The fire that killed so many. I don’t know if the tragedy haunted me because it was avoidable and preventable or because of the poor response of the authorities in dealing with it or due to the way it was reported or because of the continual covering up of and continual attempts to silence those that are demanding how and why it occurred.
I have fasted in July which is also the Muslim month of Shawwal, the 10th month in the Muslim Year but I think most would agree the experience is no where near similar to fasting in Ramadan. When fasting in June, it seemed like Ramadan became a friend to me. Ramadan held my hand and my weary heart through the attacks in Manchester, London Bridge, the tragedy that inflicted the residents of Grenfell Tower and the attack in Finsbury Park. At the same time I felt like I went on a roller coaster ride in June 2017.
So am I off this roller coaster? No my heart is still heavy. My soul is still burdened. For sometimes my heart feels it cannot take much more. I did indeed find solace in Ramadan. I usually try to use Ramadan as a time to repair and renew my relationship with God. This is because I notice in Ramadan that the conversations I have with God are more frequent and have a different intensity and quality to them. Perhaps like any relationship, one’s relationship with God also develops over the months, distance, anger and mistrust. These feelings do exist in our relationship with God but most people do not like admitting that they exist. This distance I find, when I take God for granted and it results in the relationship becoming surrounded with cobwebs. I feel these cobwebs act as a barrier to anything meaningful. I try in Ramadan to remove some of these cobwebs and be honest with what is troubling me and doing this helps me to forge something more meaningful and deeper. This Ramadan though I found myself yelling in agony, weeping tears of fury, crying at the injustice, indifference and hate that surrounds our world.
So it was not surprising that on the last Friday of Ramadan that it hit me that we have to soon bid Ramadan goodbye. Oh my heart ached and it felt like I was bidding a dear friend goodbye, anxious if I will ever see them again. Indeed although I have fasted in July in this month of Shawwal, I do not feel any of that lightness and tranquillity that you feel in Ramadan. Perhaps it is because as the Hadith (one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad) states:
“During Ramadan the devils are locked up!”
I wonder who these devils are? I know in June 2017, there was more than enough evidence to prove that human devils do not get locked up and continue lurking around causing mischief, mistrust and mayhem.
In Ramadan like many other Muslims, I also tried to read more Quran than usual. This is because Ramadan is the month of Quran. It is mostly understood that in this month that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad all those years ago. This year, I read that is to be read which is actually the literal translation of the Quran. I zoomed in and out of the verses of the thirtieth part. Most Muslims are familiar with this thirtieth part as they contain the short Surahs. But this year something struck me.
My Spiritual Teacher and Spiritual Mother, Halima Krausen, who is a Muslim scholar based in Hamburg, Germany, told me several months ago that Surah means Song. In Hebrew there is an equivalent Shirah. What struck me this Ramadan was that I experienced these Surahs as songs. The experience was indeed pleasurable. Suddenly reciting Surah Fatiha or Surah Rahman whether it was in my head or saying it out loud, felt like being in a concert hall listening to a symphony of Mozart or playing in a Jazz band or singing at a Blues concert. I found the words came alive. Certain Surahs were literally like music to my ears. I have always found music to be healing. These Surahs this Ramadan healed me. They tasted like honey. They soothed my tired head.
I also pondered on something else that Halima Krausen has mentioned to me countless times. Each Surah in the Quran has been given a name which denotes the Surah’s personality. It is like each Surah is a person and has a certain character. If you look carefully you will find that The Bee can sting but the Bee Song which can be the literal translation of Surah Nahl, also personifies a labour of love. During Grenfell I found myself often reciting Surah Fatiha for the victims and survivors and their families. The Opening Song became an opening for me. I suddenly found an opening which allowed me to cry, to be angry.
In Surah Fatiha there is a verse that says
You we serve and you we ask for help.
Nabodo comes from the arabic root verb EE BA DA which is usually translated as worship. A better translation I would suggest is to serve. When you understand EE BA DA as serving, suddenly Fasting, Prayer and Charity are no longer just rituals or acts of worship to earn our brownie points with God. They all are experienced as service whether that is to God, yourself or others. Of course fasting serves your body as it gives the stomach rest and you are detoxified. Fasting serves yourself as you learn self-control and become more aware of yourself. This cascades down to our other relationships. We think about how we treated that other person when we lost our temper. We notice our grumpiness. Similarly Zakat and Sadaqa serve others by redistributing wealth and spreading wealth but they also serve ourselves from purifying us from our attachment to our wealth. They serve us as a reminder that we all have a part to pay play in trying to be truthful and trying to create a fair and just society. By serving others we serve God but also serve our-self. It makes sense that a society based on service becomes a strong, just and fair society because it is built upon mutual cooperation rather than greed.
I believe the people in Grenfell Tower were served with utter contempt. Grenfell Tower symbolises for me the greed, selfishness, arrogance and dismissiveness of these neo-liberal Politicians and councillors. Kensington and Chelsea Councillors just betray the cruelty of the neoliberalism which as Paul Mason states in his Introduction to his book Post Capitalism: A Guide to our future is
“the doctrine of uncontrolled markets, it says that the best route to prosperity is individuals pursuing their own self- interest and the market is the only way to express that self- interest. It says that the state should be small (except for its riot squad and secret police) that financial speculation is good that inequality is good and the natural state of humankind is to be a bunch of ruthless individuals competing with each other”
I am afraid this ruthlessness results in people wanting the poor to disappear and a contempt of the poor which I know is the complete antithesis of the Bible and the Quran. I instinctively know that Moses, Jesus and Muhammad’s messages were ultimately calls for social justice and a bid to form an ethical society not just a monotheistic one. The tirades in the Quran against polytheism were to do not with polytheism per se but the exploitative industries that had been built up to exploit the idol-worshippers especially the pilgrims that came from far away. I sincerely believe that as Muslims we nowadays focus on monotheism exclusively and miss the point that monotheism on its own is surely, empty and meaningless. The prophets did not just call for monotheism but struggled and demanded ethical monotheism.
According to Buzz Feed’s News Reporter Aisha Ghani
“British Muslims donated around £100 million to charities during Ramadan, according to estimates from the Muslim Charities Forum (MCF).”
It is shockingly a lot of money but I wonder how much of that is given to strengthen and build communities here. For me Grenfell exposed how the poor here have been forgotten, not just by governments and councils but by British Muslims also. I am going to go out on a limb here. The vast majority of Muslims in the UK send their Zakat and Sadaqa abroad. I am not saying those abroad do not need our help but there needs to be a balance. The balance in the UK seems to be more towards those living abroad while the poor in this country have been neglected. Those refugees that have come here that are not entitled to benefits, those Children in care dropped out of society and who enter the criminal justice system, the countless homeless, the sexually exploited teenager, the drug addict are all neglected. Surely by serving those local to us we will surely strengthen the local communities and eventually help those abroad as well as end up building an ethical society?
Did you know Maun from Surah Maun means Neighbourly Kindness? Doesn’t it then logically flow that our Zakat and Sadaqa needs to be given to our neighbours first i.e those in our localities? Didn’t the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) distribute Zakat and Sadaqa that the Muslims collected to localities nearby than those far away. But somehow I do not know how there is this entrenched mind-set among many Muslim communities that those near us are less deserving and those abroad more so.
This mind-set has to change. We need to strengthen local communities to enable those living in localities and also those that come from abroad, to be supported by a strong social local infrastructure. Too often I find the social infrastructure in our Muslim communities is based on an approach that is uncoordinated, piecemeal, dominated by patriarchy and petty politics. The fire at Grenfell Tower showed how in this country, the poor are ridiculed, trapped and demonised. Also I understand increasingly that Sadaqa does not necessarily always mean giving money, one can serve by sharing or teaching skills to one that would benefit and also donating one’s time.
Back to Ramadan, I remember on the last Friday of this special month, I wanted to capture the fragrance of Ramadan as we bid it goodbye. I remembered that the Jews smell spices collected in a box as part of their Havdalah ritual. Havdalah is the separation of Shabbat from the rest of the week. So Jews pray that the scent of Shabbat follows them throughout the week. When Ramadan was ending I smelt some spices in a jar, cloves, dalchini sticks and cardamom. I also recall these words coming to my mind which formed a dua (heartfelt prayer) that seemed to flow from my lips.
May we smell the sweet fragrance
Of your Presence and Closeness to You God
Like we did in Ramadan
In the other months of the year
May we be as welcoming and hospitable to each other
Like we were in Ramadan
Throughout the rest of the year
May our tables be full of food and nourishment
Like they were in Ramadan
The rest of year
May we come together as Muslims, Jews, Christians,
Hindus and Buddhists
Atheists and Agnostics
Like we did this Ramadan
Amidst the tragedy of Manchester and London Bridge
Grenfell and Finsbury Park
May we come together
Throughout the year
May we join together
not to mourn loss of life
But to celebrate our humanity
And work towards peace and order
Throughout the year
May some of what we have learned of the Quran
And the wisdom and insights we have gained
Bless us to use and apply to our lives and to those lives around us.
May we remember that it is how and when we say something
And not what we say is the key.
May in our attempts for increasing self-restraint and self-discipline
Can we find strength to push ahead
With more zeal and determination
May we also remember
That it is important to sometimes give our bodies a break.
May we always remember
That just as we need to detoxify our bodies
It is just as important to detoxify
Our minds of the hate inside us
Unnecessary information and gossip
And more that only we know in our innermost selves
May we be inspired to start digital detoxification
And God give us the strength throughout the year
To walk away from our phones and social media
So our hearts, souls and minds
Can have some peace too
Maybe we can take the time
To cleanse our homes
From all the unwanted junk we have
Which we own but hardly use
May we God experience
And Your Forgiveness
Which is not tied to Ramadan
May we find it after Ramadan
May we smell or taste even if it is a little
Of that scent
Of the peace and tranquillity
And lightness and ease
That we feel in Ramadan
May we feel that scent
Throughout the year
Ramadan is leaving us
But Please God do not leave us
Forgive us our shortcomings
Pour your Mercy and Love into our hearts
For you and for each other
Back to Surah Maun in the Quran Surah 107. As I zoomed in and out of Surahs in the last part of the Quran this year, I tried to tweak myself some of the translations I have read into something that made sense to me. This is my attempt at a translation of the Neighbourly Kindness Song.
Have you considered the person who denies what they owe?
It is he who pushes aside the Orphan and does not urge to feed the needy
So woe to those who pray but are heedless of their prayer
Those who are all show and forbid neighbourly kindness?
When I heard about the residents in South Kensington Luxury Tower block protesting that their flat prices were going to go down if Grenfell residents moved in, these particular verses came to mind. I find it fascinating that the Quran time and time again attacks those that love wealth, the fraudster and the miser. In Surah 104 or Backbiter song, this is loud and clear
Woe to every fault finding back biter
Who amasses riches
Counting them over
Thinking that they will make him live for ever.
In Surah Layl Surah 92 of the Quran or The Night Song, God talks about
There is the one who is miserly,
Who is self-satisfied
Who denies goodness
We shall smooth his way towards hardship
And his wealth will not help him as he falls
In Surah 83 in the Quran or Song of Those who give short measure
Woe to those who give short measure
Who demand full measure for themselves
But give less than they should
When it is they who weigh or measure for others
I wonder those who give short measure, could they be the Tory councillors and politicians? Could they be people who were part of Kensington Tenancy Management Organisation? Could they be the Manufacturers of the cladding?
I believe that if one reads the Quran with a certain lens (not through the lens of individualism) but with an ethical pluralistic approach then one sees that the whole raison d’etre is to establish Heaven on earth. Therefore that which comes later can be peaceful stable and abundant and a world, perhaps, where poverty does not exist?
Dr Yap Kim Hao the Professor and Theologian of Free Community Church in Singapore argues that Iqbal one of Greatest Muslim Philosophers and the Spiritual Father of Pakistan rejected this self-serving individualism that I passionately believe currently pervades Muslim thinking. Professor Kim Hao stated that
Religion to Iqbal is morality and social justice which will then form the basis of a humane society a living spirit, imbued with love.
Indeed I am of the firm belief that a society built on love, that is built on serving others, can bring such love and hope and a real sense of community. This was illustrated by what happened after the Grenfell Tragedy. People saw how people came together to help. London came together. It did not matter what colour, creed or culture you were, I saw so many just wanted to help, people of different faiths were breaking the fast, giving donations, trying to be there for each other and those affected. My faith in humanity has been restored seeing what happened in Manchester and in North Kensington.
Iqbal kept asking what is the one value that can deliver humanity? He kept coming to the same answer:
I am a free man
Love leads me on
Love leads me on
Reason is my slave
Iqbal changed Nietzschean recipe replacing the meaning of individual life not to be power but love. If one empowers an individual through love, one empowers a family and then a community and the vast sea of humanity. Iqbal did not see man’s fall from paradise as Milton’s lament of paradise lost, but a call to action on earth. Humans descended to Earth not as disgrace, but as an earned opportunity to exercise freedom of choice and their will and show they can fulfill the responsibility to prove ones mettle to build self-esteem individually and collectively and then even to confront God but definitely the powers that be and confront them in the eye. Indeed the stories of triumph and of human endeavour inspire improvement in the human soul. Iqbal states it eloquently.
The vast grey dome
This world of solitude
Scared I am of delving in its wilderness
Of course you are traveller
Of course I am
Tell your destination
O flower of the wild
Why did you sprout?
Why did I break loose
A passion to be born
A taste for being unique
I am not going to end this blog with Iqbal though but with Paul Mason. What we are witnessing with what has happened to this world since 2008: is the beginning of the end of Capitalism. Although the wise say it is a curse to live in such interesting times. I believe it may be a blessing. Neoliberalism is crumbling. Paul Mason argues
“the technologies we have created are not compatible with capitalism … once capitalism can no longer adapt to technological change post capitalism become necessary”
“Capitalism although it has been a complex adaptive system has reached its limits of its capacity to adapt”
“First we save globalisation by ditching neoliberalism then we save the planet and rescue ourselves from turmoil and inequality by moving beyond capitalism. Ditching neoliberalism is easy. Through a growing consensus among protest movements radical economists, radical political parties suppressing high finance reversing austerity investing in green energy and promote high wages.”
Mason argues we need
“a new holistic model based on micro mechanisms working spontaneously not dictats”
“There is collaborative production using network technology to produce goods and services that work only when they are free or shared, this defines the route beyond the market system.”
Mason gives me hope by pointing out that by
“creating millions of networked people financially exploited but with whole of human intelligence one thumb swipe away info capitalism has created a new agent of change in history the educated connected human being”
Imagine what this connected human being can do. We witnessed this with Momentum and the decimation of the Tory majority in the results of the recent Election.
We are witnessing this with Grenfell and Black Lives Matter.
I want to end this blog with Surah Asr, or Surah 103 in the Quran or The Time Song and the dua which is short but I kept uttering this Ramadan
Forgive the Believing Men and Women
One needs to understand, to believe is not restricted to the usual understanding of
AA MU NA, which is usually translated as believing. AA MU NA (the Arabic root verb) also means how you feel safe in the other person’s company, do you trust them? Can you depend upon them? The understanding needs to be more wider to enable others to be included, to be empowered and to be relevant in this day and age. So here is my attempt at translation:
By Time; Humanity is at loss. Except those who you can trust and who work for peace and order and who counsel each other to truth and to be actively patient and constant.