Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The birds are singing at 0540 this morning!

E'id for me this time around commemorates an understanding of humanity deeper than the pursuit of happiness

E'id Mubarak to you

I hope you had a fufilling Ramadhan.  My mother fasted on some days, too. She's under the weather, right now, but insists she is fine.

It has been and continues to be very cold here in Nairobi, though, for us, at least.  We have coughs and colds and freezing knees.  I stopped fasting after Saida stopped school!  No point in getting mad and then regretting it especially during the fast - that in itself is hell which we are trying to avoid by practicing the fast!

Though I stopped the food fast, I still learned a LOT during this Ramadhan: Most importantly, fasting is not just about stopping food (which I think I learnt by focusing my awareness on the things that happen when one does a food-fast ie stop food).  There is a reward to the practice and it is intrinsic - derived from the traditions, the gatherings, the change in attitudes, however temporary, and the diversion, even. 

I haven't seen a change in members of my community, though, on the level of a search for greater ways of binding to one another on the basis of a higher standard of ethics.  We have no national history and the only things that bind us in Africa are marriage-and-business or trade or religious service or common enemies.  This pretence of brotherhood will not dissipate not even by the end of the lunar month, which is within a few hours, but the hypocrisy will remain like a brand that like cattle we are neither able to see nor be aware of.

There are some dangerous things that happen when we don't fast 365 days.  I am not sure how to explain that kind of fast but here are examples: the politeness we have learnt from our colonial masters - that is often a form of fasting, for me, though its reach has tipped over the edge and can be converted into facetiousness and pretence, approaching hate; avoiding situations where one's own mental health would otherwise take a beating, like getting angry with a loved one or not having time or inclination to have a hug or a cuddle, I think; sacrificing one thing for something more important, the way mothers do, is also a form of fasting. 

Saying sorry requires a form of fasting from pride.  This could be much more valuable than fasting from food and can be performed throughout the year.  Forgiveness and brotherhood are two sides of the same chapati.  They can make up for a lack of history and time-tested culture.

However, holding back on consuming food instinctively and satisfying the senses (between the hours prescribed), if it can be done without damaging one's health (or someone else's), does help in slowing one down enough to feel that during the forced rest one only has two choices - to go blank (into passivity) or to do something active like offering a prayer and searching for, attempting to find the meaning of that elusive state we call taqwa.   [Prayer, here, includes intellectual striving, meditation, reflection, reading of texts, or anything sublime, thereby partaking of the thinnest air found in the attempt to attain spiritual heights that can trigger transcendence].  Taqwa is not bliss, mind you.  It is something like "a love experienced upon being touched by that which can only be touched if it touches you, first"; it is freedom from lust for sensuality, a freedom that lingers like freedom from hunger.  Perhaps it has an astringent taste like that of a toothbrush cut from an acacia tree.  Perhaps it's remembering to hold on to the reins of the camel even when one is overcome with slumber.

We know that it is there - it is not just imaginary, if it requires the imagination to conceive of or trigger it - and it can speak to something about our humanity which is intangible.  Yet it hints of another existence or dimension, another world.  Imagination certainly has a role to play - Dr Azim Nanji revealed that in Miami in 1979, I remember.

Perhaps every day of the year is potentially a day in Ramadhan or, at least, falls in a holy month of sorts, if we want it to, in our consciousness. We may have to rise above the host of judgmental ignorances that permeate our beings in order to live such a day, though.  We are created with too many blind spots.  The month - any month - can be meaningful.  The moon smiles at the beginning of the month, as Mohammed the Prophet has been reported to say.  It then smiles at the end of it, too.  There seems only one way to remove grief and that is to smile.  Behind such a smile there must be a fountain that springs from Taqwah.

Prophet Mohammed - may the shining clarity of peace that he symbolises and represents be upon him and his physical and spiritual descendants, for his life is like the smoky perfume he loved to wear and may my love of writing bear witness to that.

Fasting is a retreat - which very few are able to take refuge into everyday of the year.  I pray for humble, silent and striving believers who modestly hide from attention like woodlice, who peacefully and non-violently gather to preserve their enviable peace, every day of the year, a peace that has too often been touted as conspiracy by the media in the control of the war-mongers and arms manufacturers.

I wish for the rest of us that we find the peace and solitude required to better understand deeper into the meaning of fasting, for us to retreat from the activity of the day and the madness of the season everyday, and trust that God's hand is resting over our abodes like a shade from inclement change in the climate.

There are believers and non-believers in search of moments of retreat and eschewing the overfeeding of their senses, everyday, I am sure.  My experience of the west has been a spartan one at the best of times.  I have seen Islam being performed in life without it being called Islam, while I have witnessed hypocrisy under the name of Islam that is practiced religiously, which is very sad indeed. 

When I was in the UK as a child, fasting was de rigueur for me, even in the silence of the snow that creaked underfoot just before sunrise, which lit up the woods reassuringly, in advance of Christmas, during late Advent.  Christmas was certainly a moment that could be celebrated like E'id, when presents were distributed merrily all round.  I have seen the stars shimmering and dilating during that season.  It was not a food fast but, for me it was a fast from other comforts, like warmth and proximity to home and family near the equator.

Our vocabularies have become mixed up and now Christmas can be mistaken for arms sales, and Islam and E'id for... slaughter.  Our power to redefine it and hearken the original meaning has been robbed and we are now governed by the selective information we are now forced-fed, into a quandary of brainless activity in our search for restoration of that peace.  The illuminati meanwhile laugh at us with contempt.

On Twitter I read a conversation about charity, just yesterday.  Someone suggested that charity is a bit like a "good cause".  There is a rationale on a national scale that legitimises the notion of the "good cause".  One contributes to a good cause when one knows that one's own circumstances are comparatively better than those of the majority.  Sometimes in the west subscription to the good cause perhaps ends where ones human rights have to be set aside for its sake, the greatest of these rights being the right to 'happiness'.  For, as I read in that conversation, charity in the name of good causes normally perpetuates the product of charity - be it for human or animal rights.  Perpetuating such situations, then, is to perpetuate suffering, the opposite of the purpose of life in the west which is, assumed in as a basic premise of the argument - happiness.  The products of marketing, I think, in the west are purposed for (a) wealth and (b) happiness.  People do not seem to be allowed to think further than this.

I would ask, what is the relationship between a good cause and an ethic if happiness might be obtained without regard to ethics?  Are ethics relative, then?  Where should one draw the line between good and ethical and is it ethical to set aside happiness for the sake of a wider effect?  Is such a thought ethical and stupid?  Or is it ethical and good?  Or is it just plain foolish to begin such a thread?

Of course, some people who call themselves Muslims have extended this argument to rather perverted interpretations of martyrdom and self-annihilation (suicide) for the 'good cause'.  In my Islam self-annihilation referred to the ashes of the soul (as in Rumi) and not directly of the body.  Crikey.  What happened?  Something that should not need to have been thus extrapolated went into warp drive.  It's enough to give one apnoea. 

The overarching guideline of Islam that is found during Ramadhan is restraint, at least, for me.  I feel that this is the eye the needle through which the camel must pass to find the oasis.  Ramadhan is very well epitomised in the desert.

I just read about atheists in Saudi Arabia today.  I commented that whatever set of rules one subscribes to, at bottom, each of us subscribes to them to fulfil an ulterior motive, whether we realise it or not (I submitted to this argument in 1973 by Dr A Esmail (a philosopher) and still haven't found a response to it).  Human beings are, by nature, self-centred. Those who strive to seek out ways to rise above that self-centredness are compelled to refer to a set of ethics, a medium, a mirror that reflects some clarity that resonates bodily and in the soul.  It can be Atheism, Mohammedanism, Islam, the Tao, or whatever.  [In Arabic striving is quite simply and directly translated as jihad, which is only a benign qualifying or adjectival noun, now, of course spun into a deadly weapon that disperses herds of sheep.]

For me both atheism or religion and all beliefs between these poles are espoused to benefit from how they serve to enable us to intellectually search for meaning and experience, whether the fruits of that search are experienced as meaningful more at the spiritual or material level.  There is striving everywhere, to search for an abiding truth, a permanent berth in life and all of life's experience confirms that the material is qualified by values that are reflected as responses from the soul.  But there can be no atheism where there is a dearth of human comfort (poverty). It serves to enable one to live, to mediate one's quality of life.   It is an intellectual luxury that is born of choice.

I have my set of ethics, too:  They comprise of being responsive, peaceful, non-violent, forgiving, doubtful of the supremacy of the human mind, diffident enough to accommodate an anchor of humility in ones daily life; a search for ethics that look to (and for) the best examples in the history of mankind is more likely to enable us to restore us to our peace and humanity in this deteriorating world than any other combination.

I know from experience and failure that I have enough blind spots to realise that I could be talking right through my straw hat!  Okay, I concede.  But I am sure that today I am sad, yes, but I am not without a sense of heightened clarity about the direction and meaning of my existence, for which I am grateful and which I would not exchange for a state of ephemeral happiness, ever.