The 4 Major Factors That Fuel Religious Fundamentalism

I have a mantra on life that I wish to share with you, dear reader. Ignorance restricts and breeds hatred and extremism; while knowledge liberates, and breeds compassion and understanding. Fundamentalism stems from ignorance, and thus only breeds negativity. It is a venomous disease that kills positivity and growth, and needs to be identified and cured, on a very personal level.

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As a Muslim, who in his earlier days had adopted quite a fundamentalist approach, I have come a long way by internalizing a basic yet painful truth: I definitely do not have all the answers, hence different point of views are not only necessary for my own growth and evolution (which to me, is the prime purpose of life) but also that respecting diversity is the only solution of progress and co-existence. I have come to realize that only those who hold a shallow outlook are afraid of diversity in thought, for it threatens ungrounded and un-researched prejudices and beliefs. Bertrand Russell, very wisely, puts it as:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

  1. Lack of independent study and exposure to different schools of thought

In my humble opinion, the biggest factor of fundamentalism and dogmatism is that most people do not critically examine the philosophy on life they profess to accept and believe in. Naively believing whatever is told to them by their family/friends and scholars, they lack the exposure to different schools of thought that has the tendency of humbling one’s self down. So, when a blind belief is threatened by an opposing point of view, such people, unable to prove their point by reasoning, resort to insults and bad language; or in extreme cases, resort to violence in order to protect that belief and to gain a feeling of supremacy and self-worth. This, in medical terms, is also known as cognitive dissonance.

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  1. Inconsistency in approach

Whether it be theism or atheism, dogmatism and fundamentalism exists on both sides of the coin. This is a bitter truth that I’ve observed over the years. One would expect atheists and “progressive religionists” to be more open-minded towards those who differ from their perspective, but this unfortunately is not the case with all of them. Ironically, they become what they detest the most: hardliner preachers of their “religion”, looking down upon anyone and everyone who differs. Of course, I do not mean to imply that every atheist or theist behaves like that, which brings me to my next point: avoiding generalizations.

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  1. Generalizations and thinking in absolutes

Generalizations play a key role in fundamentalism and dogmatism: All Muslims are terrorists. All atheists are proud and arrogant. All Shias are Kafirs. Every black person is a thug; every white person a racist. Fundamentalists perceive everything in a black and white manner, refusing – or simply uninterested- to observe the many shades of grey within. This, again, brings me back to my point: exposure! The more you are exposed to a diversity of people: their way of living, their way of thinking, their way of worshiping (or the lack thereof), the more you broaden your mind and cease thinking in absolutes.

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  1. Possessing the key to “the sole truth”

Religionists are brought up believing that their path to God is the “only” correct path worthy of salvation, and this brainwashing turns some (if not most) of them into bigots. Atheists believe that atheism is the “only” rational approach, and this brainwashing turns some (if not most) of them into bigots. What needs to be eliminated is the personal belief of having a monopoly on truth, even the idea of there being a sole truth out there. But it’s challenging – it’s challenging because having a monopoly on truth and looking down upon others is a great boost for the ego and a major source of self-worth for some. In addition, this feeling of superiority due to having the key to “the truth” may well be the most defining part of their personality, making it even harder for them to abolish this self-centered belief.

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However, sincere people in all walks of life eventually realize the need for pluralism and tolerance. A sincere person analyzes the contradictions in his own approach and works on continually reforming himself, instead of always finding faults with others. A sincere person strives for consistency in approach. If he detests something in others, he makes it incumbent upon himself that that negative trait is not a part of his own personality. And when he does this, he automatically becomes more tolerant, more compassionate, more humble, and above all, he is able to acquire peace within himself which ultimately is the prime purpose of any philosophy on life. All in all, he is more interested in his own evolution instead of proving others wrong.

As Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see in the world!

 

Related article: United Sects of Islam: A different perspective on unity and sectarianism

 

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Music: Forbidden in Islam?

The topic of music is one that is much discussed among Muslims, especially the youth. The web is full of humongous articles outlining the tiniest details of which instruments are allowed (if any), and the forums are full of questions regarding music. At a time when we should be focusing on matters like education, justice, and human rights; we’re still stuck at an almost laughable issue: Whether it is permissible for a Muslim to listen to music or not? But let’s not digress; and get to the heart of the matter.

In traditional Islamic thought, it is widely believed that music is forbidden in Islam as it is considered a mere waste of time that may have negative effects on the listener, and thus deter people from practicing Islam. The Hadith contain contradictory rulings on the subject of music, with some allowing it and others forbidding it. Hence, both the proponents and opponents of music justify their position by quoting Hadith that support their viewpoint.

To judge whether a thing is forbidden in Islam from a contradictory secondary source would not be a very wise choice. Let us then explore this topic from the Quran, as it acts as a Furqan (Criterion) over any other secondary source.

But before we do that, I feel it is vital for the reader to understand that things are neither positive, nor negative; they’re neutral in nature. It is how you use it that deems it beneficial or detrimental. A knife, for example, is a neutral object. Just because a knife could be used to harm another being does not mean that we should ban it and forego its positive uses.

With that being said, the same idea applies to music. Music that encourages positivity is a very useful means to uplift your mood, and motivate you. It is nourishment for the soul and counts among the many blessings of God to us humans. However, music that promotes negativity such as promiscuousness and lewdness should simply be avoided, just as you would avoid any other detrimental thing. After all, the whole point of Islam is to make responsible decisions in life. Is it not?

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Coming to the Quran, it does not specifically refer to music in its discourse. What that means is that this is an unimportant subject, for which you get to make the judgment call based on reason and experience. However, although the majority of conventional scholars on Islam quote two verses to justify the prohibition on music, a careful reading of the Quran serves to dismiss this. Let us then analyze these two verses:

 

“Tempt and allure them with your voice such of them as you can. You may prompt them into armed conflicts, have a share in their resources and children, and give them (false) promises. And whatever Satan promises them is but meant to delude the mind.” Quran, 17:64

I find that the reasoning that goes behind prohibiting music is very simplistic indeed; for it demonizes music, as a whole, based on some songs that encourage immorality. Not staying true to the Quran holistically, traditional scholars would have you believe that the voice of Shaitan used to tempt, and allure you refers to music. Again, what about the music that promotes justice, equality, and peace? The argument falls flat on the face.

As a matter of fact, this “voice” is clearly defined in the last chapter of the Quran:

 

“(I seek refuge) From the evil of the sneaking whisperer who whispers (evil) in the hearts of people.” Quran, 114:4-5

The Shaitan deludes you in only one way: evil inclinations and suggestions that suddenly prompt up within yourself, acting counter to your nature. This is how it misleads us, and gives us “false promises of hope.”

 

Among the people, there are those who uphold baseless narratives (Lahwal Hadith), and thus divert others from the path of God without knowledge, and take it in vain. These have incurred a shameful retribution. Quran, 31:6

However you define and interpret “Hadith”, the purpose it plays is that it diverts people from the path of God – this is the defining phrase. This actually cements my point that good music, which in no way diverts you from godly virtues, is perfectly suitable and does not fall into the category of “baseless Hadith”.

 

A piece of advice:

And do not utter falsehoods by letting your tongues determine [at your own discretion], “This is lawful and that is forbidden”, thus attributing your own lying inventions to God: for, behold, they who attribute their own lying inventions to God will never prosper. Quran, 16:116

Conclusion

Forbidding things that are not explicitly referred to in the Quran is an act that is severely condemned by God as it leads to the misuse of religion to enslave people in the name of Islam by the “holy men.” It is revealing to observe that the scholars who forbid music in the name of Islam suddenly deem singing and *some* instruments to be permissible when it comes to religious songs, songs that overly praise Prophet Mohammad (which is risky business). Eh, double standards? Where is the consistency in approach that one would expect from a scholar?

It becomes highly problematic when additional laws and regulations are added on top of the word of God, as this leads to the complication of Islam and thus deters Muslims from practicing it. It’s not like the masses have adhered to this supposed commandment of God to not indulge in music, rather what it may do is that it may give a Muslim, who enjoys music, the impression of not being a “good Muslim”. Once you’ve established this, you have no incentive left to guard yourself from the things that are actually forbidden in the Quran, and may end up right in the midst of them.

Oh, the painful irony of it all.

 

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Stop Monopolizing Allah!

Amidst the mournful incident of MH 370, it was reported recently that the Malaysian Islamic Propagation Organisation (Pekida) was willing to suffer a bloodbath for Islam and the country, including defending the word “Allah”.

Bloodbath – right. Thanks for using such a non-violent term to represent Islam. We really needed that! Ironically, the biggest enemies of Islam are not people outside of Islam, rather the very prominent representatives of Islam who, for some reason, never fail to bring shame to us all. So, cheers to the new round!

Let me assure you, as long as we have organizations like Pekida around, you can be sure that Islam will remain a laughing stock for the masses. And, why shouldn’t they? When Muslim leaders come out with such insane stuff, how can we expect any better?

Instead of using their prominent position to their benefit in bringing a positive light to Islam, they’d rather prefer wasting other people’s time by focusing on the most ridiculous and silliest of things. Today, they want non-Muslims to refrain from using the word Allah. Tomorrow, who knows? I mean, we’ve digressed to a point where we now want a copyright on “Allah”. Shameful, to say the least!

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Islam is not an Arabic religion
Muslims make a big mistake by mixing Arabic culture with Islam. Many believe that it was Prophet Mohammad who brought Islam, but this can’t be further away from what the Quran says. The truth of the matter is that Islam is not a recent, 7th century Arabic religion. It is the same religion that was revealed to all prophets:

He has ordained for you all, the same System of Life that He enjoined upon Noah – And We have revealed to you (O Prophet!) the same message as We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: “Establish the Divine System of Life and make no sects in it (do not be divided). Quran, 42:13

Prophet Mohammad said: And I have followed the religion of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Quran, 12:38

Having established that, it is obvious that Prophets throughout the times referred to God in their own respective languages. Hence, Allah is not a proper noun for the “God of Muslims.” It simply means “The God” in Arabic. Since the Quran is in Arabic, it refers to the Supreme Being as Allah. Similarly, if it was in any other language, it would refer to Him by the equivalent word for God in that very language.

From a Quranic point of view, one can observe that Allah is not the name of a unique God that Muslims believe in, rather it is an all encompassing term for the Supreme Being regardless of the faith one subscribes to. Christians, Jews, and other religious group are seen as using the word Allah to denote God in the Quran, and never has this been contested in any verse (5:17, 5:18, 5:72, 5:73). To give you a few examples:

Surely those who acknowledge (this divine book); and those who are Jewish, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whomever of them acknowledges Allah and the Last Day (Accountability) and does acts of reform; they will have their reward with their Lord, with no fear over them, nor will they grieve. Quran, 2:62

If we are to assume that believing in Allah equates to believing in Islam, then the first phrase of the verse loses purpose. After all, the gist of the verse is that no matter your religion, as long as you believe in God and continually reform yourself, you could expect reward.

A similar case is presented in the following verses

“And they claim, ‘None will enter Paradise unless he is a Jew or a Christian.’ This is nothing but their wishful thinking. Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful.”Quran, 2:111

“Nay, whoever submits his whole being to Allah, and he is a doer of good to humanity, his reward is with his Lord. Then, no fear shall come upon them nor shall they grieve.” Quran, 2:112

Hence, it is clear that Allah is used to denote God in Arabic as a noun, and not a proper noun.

God does not have a fixed name

Say, “Call upon God (Allah), or call upon the Almighty (Rahman): By whatever name you call upon Him, to Him belongs the best names and attributes of perfection…” Quran, 17:110

 

Conclusion
Did the members of Pekida never read the Quran for themselves? This is not something that requires intensive research, as it is blatantly obvious! So, what kinds of people are representing Islam in Malaysia? As always, the authority lies in the wrong hands.

Muslims, I sincerely urge you to start focusing on the big picture – things that really matter. It is high time we transcend petty arguments, and get involved in educating ourselves about the Quran and others around us to clear such misconceptions that certain individuals impose upon Islam.

Allah is not a trademark that Muslims own, and neither do Muslims own the Arabic language. It is about time we realize that.

 

This article was also featured in The Malaysian Insider, The Malay Mail Online, and ARY News.

 

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Let’s be honest: Do you really believe in the Day of Judgment?

Over the years, belief has become a problematic word for me. Religious people are too fixated on scoring brownie points with God by exhausting all their efforts into believing this and believing that, all the while, failing to utilize that belief into something productive that makes them grow. It seems to me that people have made religion into a document that supposedly leads them to heaven just by signing on it (proclaiming they believe in it). What a shameful way to belittle God, this is!

The Quran, like any other book, is not to be “believed”, rather it is a self-help book that needs to be internalized so that the reader may evolve as a person. Quoting 14:1, “A book we have revealed to you so that you may bring people out of darkness towards light.” This, of course, can only be achieved when you act on it.

Belief, you could say then, is only the initial step of a ladder that ultimately leads towards it’s implementation: Necessary to take, however not as an end in itself; rather as a means to an end. Therefore, it is only reasonable to say, a belief that doesn’t translate into action is hollow, worthless, and a downright mockery of the self. This, I constantly remind myself, is an act of hypocrisy. And, most abominable in the sight of God is that you say what you do not do. (Quran, 61:3)

One of the fundamental teachings of the Quran is to acknowledge the Day of Judgment. But, why? Not many of us ask that question. When I started reading the Quran, my approach was to believe everything I read, without questioning. After all, how could I question God? However, as I went deeper into the Quran, I realized that doubt is an essential part of faith and spirituality. It is only when you question, does the wisdom behind every commandment reveals itself.

So when I questioned the point behind there being a Day of Judgment, I realized that if internalized from the core of your being, this belief molds people into responsible citizens who make decisions not on impulse, but by weighing and analyzing the pros and cons of it. People who realize that they are accountable for all their actions would never even think of wronging somebody else in the least. This, if adopted as a whole, would lead to Islam: a peaceful world.

Governments, too, try to replicate this model in order to ensure law and order in society. However, this still leaves room for people to commit injustices and indecencies in their private spaces, as well as public spaces through corruption. But there is no corruption in the court of God, is what some of us forget. It is a just system that judges you on behalf of your actions, not your beliefs. Hence, acknowledging the Day of Judgment should not be the focus. The focus, rather, should be on tuning our actions to the point where they act as a witness to our belief.

However, it is truly unfortunate and perplexing to see that so many Muslims, despite “believing” in the Day of Accountability, reject accountability in spirit. Through fabricated stories outside of the Quran, it is widely believed that Mohammad (salutes and respect to him) would intercede on behalf of every Muslim. Pause there. Before you react, imagine a judicial system where criminals could receive amnesty, just because they were “favorites” of the Judge. Would you call that justice? Surely, not! Then, what picture have we painted of God?

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And so it is, if you were to ask any Muslim whether he acknowledges a Day of Judgment, he would swiftly respond in the affirmative. “Of course, I do!” Yet, on the contrary, these very Muslims, though not all, don’t think twice before committing injustices and obscenities. Is that not a huge contradiction? The question that must be asked is, if you really believe in judgment, how is it that your actions don’t reflect it?

A million dollar question!

Are we not missing the point?

 

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Can Praying For The Deceased Make A Difference?

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It is common practice among Muslims and other faiths alike to hold ceremonies in which relatives come together to pray for forgiveness for someone who has passed away. There are “Quran Khawanis” in which it is allegedly believed that reading the Quran would somehow benefit the deceased. People go so far in this dogma that they send someone else on behalf of the deceased for pilgrimage, in the hopes that the reward may be given to the deceased person. From an empathetic point of view, I understand. I really do. There are withdrawal symptoms in play and it may give a sense of satisfaction to pray or do whatever you can to “help”. However, I am sad to break the bitter truth to you: it doesn’t make any difference.

When a person dies, his account of deeds is closed. Nothing can be added or subtracted. We are judged on the Day of Judgement purely on the merit of our own actions. And it’s only fair this way, if you think about it. If the wicked people could go to heaven just because their family prayed a lot, would that be justice? Likewise, if the deceased was a good person, he would then naturally go to heaven. What would be the purpose of your prayers, then? Let’s see what the Quran has to say about this:

Every person is responsible for his own actions

That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another – 53:38

“And that the human being can have nothing except what he has earned (good or bad) – 53:39

And that his effort is going to be seen – 53:40

And then he will be fully rewarded for it – 53:41

Whoever chooses to follow the right path, follows it but for his own good; and whoever goes astray. goes but astray to his own hurt; and no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden – 17:15

And none can carry the load of another; and even if it calls on another to bear part of its load, no other can carry any part of it, EVEN IF THEY ARE RELATED. You will only be able to warn those who are concerned towards their Lord while unseen, and they hold the contact prayer. And whoever contributes, is contributing for himself. And to God is the final destiny –  35:18

 

Even the Prophet cannot redeem guilty people

Ask forgiveness for them, [O Muhammad], or do not ask forgiveness for them. If you should ask forgiveness for them seventy times – never will Allah forgive them. That is because they covered the truth about Allah and His Messenger, and Allah does not guide the Fasiqeen – 9:80

 

 Prophets couldn’t save their own family. What makes us think that we can?

Prophet Nooh tried to save his son but was reprimanded by God very severely as he was not among the reformists. Upon this, Nooh asked for forgiveness (11:45-47).

Prophet Ibrahim sought protection for his father from God, but to no avail. (9:114)

Loot’s wife was not saved from the punishment. (11:81)

 

There is no intercession on the Day of Judgement

And fear a Day when no soul will suffice for another soul at all, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will compensation be taken from it, nor will they be aided – 2:48 (Also check 2:123, 2:254, 39:44, 43:86, 74:48)

Conclusion

All these points go on to prove that we are judged purely based on our actions. As I have previously mentioned in an article, prayer alone does not influence the outcome – action does.

Having said that, it just baffles me that this has become common practice in our society, especially since the Quran is crystal clear on this subject. If one would stop, and think just for a moment – one immediately realizes how illogical a practice this is. But, perhaps, this is what happens when “Muslims” stop reading the Quran and get their information from secondary sources. We were never supposed to be a dogmatic lot. You would be surprised to see the amount of emphasis the Quran puts on critical thinking, especially when it comes to matters of religion as this is where most of the exploitation is done. But it’s easily overlooked  as these “scholars” portray themselves as representatives of God. Only if we would read the book we so dearly claim to believe…

 

For those who persevere in doing good there is the ultimate good in store, and more [than that].No darkness and no ignominy will overshadow their face: it is they who are destined for paradise, therein to abide – 10:26

On the other hand, there is he who has inevitably deserved suffering (for his persistence in following false ‘authorities’). Can you save the one already committed to fire? – 39:19

 

 

 

Eid Milad Un-Nabi

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It is supposedly the birthday of Prophet Mohammad today (Sunnis and Shias celebrate it on different days). I am all for celebrating birthdays, as they are an integral part of many cultures and allow families to spend some quality time together. However, what I’m against is hypocrisy. Some of the Muslims think that celebrating birthdays is a “Bidah” (innovation) and are adamantly opposed to it. Still, they find no harm in making an exception when it comes to the birthday of the Prophet.

O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? 62:9

On my Facebook Feed, I am exposed to updates which portray Prophet Mohammad as the sole reason this Universe was created. This has absolutely no basis in the Quran. Now, let me remind you that Prophet Mohammad deserves no special importance compared to the the other Prophets. All the Prophets brought the same message (42:13), and so we are to treat them equally. The Quran repeatedly warns us against making distinctions between messengers:

Say: “We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Ibraham and Ismael and Ishaq and Yaqoob and the Descendants and what was given to Musa and Eesa and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims for Him.” 2:136

The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His writings and His messengers, [saying], “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your protection, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination.” 2:285

But they who believe in Allah and His messengers and do not discriminate between any of them – to those He is going to give their rewards. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. 4:152

 

So, please, do not think of Prophet Mohammad as a pinnacle of Messengers. It is one thing to respect him, and totally another to idolize him. Did he not come to eradicate idolization? Yet, how ironic it is that on his own birthday, we deviate from his message and think that we are respecting him. Indulging in singing and listening to naats while completely oblivious to his message seems like a great disrespect to me. Don’t you think?

If you invoke them (anyone besides God), they do not hear your supplication; and if they heard, they would not respond to you. And on the Day of Resurrection they will deny your association. And none can inform you like [one] Acquainted [with all matters]. 35:14

 

In his own words, Prophet Mohammad said:
“I am not different from other  messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am not but a clear warner.” 46:9

This verse alone clears two major misconceptions:

One, that he did not consider himself as superior to other messengers. So, why should we?

Second, he did not know what would be done with you, so clearly he can’t intercede for you on your behalf. This notion is also supported by 2:48, 2:123, 2:254, 39:44, 43:86, 74:48.

 

So, if you will celebrate this day, celebrate it by pondering on the message he brought. Support his mission in propagating it. And, donate your money to a worthy cause. That seems like a befitting tribute to him!

 

A very happy Eid Milad Un-Nabi to you & your family! 🙂

Why A Helping Hand Is Always Better Than Praying Lips

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With the current crisis going on in Gaza, Iraq/Syria, and all around the world, I often hear statements like “Please make dua (prayer) for them”, or “Pray for the destruction of the oppressors”, and think to myself: “What good is a prayer without action?”

We have imams supplicating their hearts out at the weekly Friday prayer, imploring God to restore the condition of the “Muslim Ummah” and pleading God to help the Muslims. But that doesn’t seem to do anything whatsoever. The atrocities keep happening, and the “Muslim world” keeps plunging into deeper issues.

Why?

Well, let’s see! Because we’re not doing anything about it!

Prayer, as I understand it, is your self-talk with God to provide you a direction towards your goal. To act as a constant reminder, a motivator even. An example would suffice for the skeptic. Ask all your friends and family to pray that you pass an exam, but do not put any effort into studying the material. Do you reckon you will pass? No one does that, because deep down inside you are perfectly aware that it is doomed for failure. So, why persist in this dogma when it comes to the well-being of others?

As long as prayer inspires you to actually do something, or increase your empathy with those who are suffering, it can be considered useful. But in and of itself, prayer is not a magical mantra that would automatically set things aright. From a very early age, we’re brainwashed to pray for this and pray for that. Most of us are not taught activism, unfortunately! Hence, this type of mindset breeds lazy individuals who put everything in the “hands of God” in the face of oppression, greed, and tyranny.

So, what is the problem exactly? Has God stopped listening to us? Or, could it possibly be that we’ve forgotten the vital aspect that WE were supposed to be the vicegerents (Khalifa) of this earth (2:30)? Certainly, you would not ask your boss to do something that was delegated to you!

God has endowed us with body, mind, and soul. Body to be mobile, active. Mind, to ponder and come up with solutions. And Soul, to feel the pain of others. We are assigned a role to help humanity and have been given the necessary tools to collectively achieve this goal. But, what do we do in return? Ask God to intervene somehow to restore order. How ironic! And how utterly ungrateful we have become…

The prophets, our supposed role models, did not pray all day long asking God to put an end to the oppression of human beings. No, they were intelligent beings who knew that prayer without action is a mockery of the “self”. Musa (Peace be upon him) is the prime example for this. An ordinary man with practically no following whatsoever decided to face the tyrant Firaun one on one. With his utmost dedication and determination, he freed the children of Israel from the oppression of Firaun.

These are the role models we have to revive, if we are to improve the sanctity of human life. This is what we call following the example of the prophets. Following their character! And, here too, we have deviated from the right course. Instead of following their character, we try to imitate their personality by dressing up like them. But, I digress.

In conclusion, we have to stop acting as if God will take care of everything eventually. This is not our purpose as human beings. Sure, prayer is a great practice — as long as it is complemented with activism. Contribute your time, your resources, to the well-being of others. Only then will we reach self-actualization. And only then can we hope to have a clear conscience.

 

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