We are in a crisis of leadership in our small Muslim community. Like the old guard of communist Russia in the 60s all our mosque leadership has become older & rigid, but unfortunately not wiser with age, nor more educated in our Deen. (This assessment stems from the fact that if they had become more educated in their Deen perhaps they would be mellower).
So where do I fall in all of this turmoil and am I rigid and inflexible?
I am at a Holiday Tea at my Book Club Meeting. At the end of it one of the ladies who teaches Bible Class for her Church, while chatting with me expresses her surprise how one of our colleagues has become so inflexible, She then pause and makes a thoughtful remark “ rigidity in attitude does not happen overnight, it creeps in inch by inch when we are not paying attention”
Another more recent example of rigidity resulting in disaster happens while I am in Hajj. A very sick person who has been given an antibiotic by another Hajji refuses to take it as she wants to take “her own” I am not privy to the reasons for that but some of it comes from a “fear of someone else’s germs and thus the resulting inflexibility” Of course eventually untreated sickness spirals and is compounded by other factors.
The most dramatic response to our inflexibility out of “a fear that what the other person is offering may not be sterile of germs” happened on my trip to Jerusalem with hurtful consequences.
We are walking towards the Al Aqsa mosque with our host guide an older Palestinian man with eyes that have seen a lot but have given up control to the Almighty. He stops to buy some goodies from an open cart. He then offers them to each one of us we are unfamiliar with the goodies. They are Arab cookie of some sort, sticky and sweet.
“The finest lady” with us takes it thanks him and eats it. One American Muslim woman with us refuses it. She has seen the open cart where the cookies were sold (they are not packaged).
We enter into the Masjed Al Aqsa and after completing prayers and the tour, we step out into the Arab Quarter. By this time we are famished and the aroma of freshly baked bread assails our nostrils. My American friend stops to buy several loafs of this aromatic freshly baked bread and proceeds to offer them to some of the tourists with us.
When she offers it to our host guide, he refuses. My American friend is perplexed. He had just said that this was the best bread in the world, and yet he refuses to accept it. She thinks that maybe like her he may be concerned that it had been broken off at one end and thus unsanitary. She offers him a whole loaf which also he very gently refuses.
Perplexed she asks our “finest lady” what could be the matter? who replies “you refused his so he cannot take yours”
The proverbial “Breaking bread” with someone, in most of the Muslim world is an act of friendship. When you refuse it you are refusing a lot more than a mere piece of bread or cookie.
Inflexibility whether it comes from a fear of germs, or a dislike for what is being offered or whether it stems from being a slave of habit, creeps in with age.
If it is not checked with a healthy dose of Tazkiyah Nafs and living poorly every now and then it can become the reigning rod of ones life, striking one into a rigid lonely corner which is an un-giving and un- taking position
Though the aged leaders in our mosque would vehemently deny that they are rigid or unbending in anything, they would tell you that “they are right!” This they would say with confidence and an utmost lack of humility.
This has had a cannonball effect on the “every day Joes and Joettes” in the mosque. The young men and women in the mosque feel that they are invisible.
They feel that they are asked to come forward to help with programs, clean and decorate the mosque for events, the women are asked to cook, but none of them are ever given complete charge of any one program, each activity is micromanaged by the seniors. At the end of their service there is no smile and no word of thanks from the requester. An invisible loathsome unspoken feeling of being ”used and discarded”hangs in the corridors of the mosque.
All the young adults have grown in homes where “talking back” is a sin, and considered highly disrespectful.
Thus the vicious cycle of use of Youth resources, abuse by elders of the younger folks by preventing the young adults a place at the decision making table, and or altering their plans unilaterally, compounded by no response to this abuse by young adults has excluded any possibility of breaking the cycle.
I too find myself getting “set in ways” at times, falling into habits that are comfortable and excluding those that are not.
My wake up call comes when I travel to countries with less financial resources but more spiritual resources, going to retreats where four of us have to live gracefully in a small room with one simple bathroom and smile, and meeting people who live not for this world but the Hereafter. This seriously tempers my desire to follow my Nafs blindly.
What is missing from the Muslim community especially the Indo Pak and Arab communities across the nation is a sense of humility and the practice of Tazkiyah Nafs.
Blind obedience to the Nafs is most evident in the exchanges at meeting whether they are administrative or educational; the sparring that goes on is propelled by a sense of superiority that comes through like a lance through the heart of the observer.
In all these observations I am not excluding myself into the innocent zone, but bringing this out so that I do not get smug and give up my tussle with my Nafs by thinking that I am done with that part of education and thus I have overcome my Nafs.
The huge chasm between education and practice of Tazkiyah Nafs like anything in life is the vast difference between knowing it and actually doing it.
Having esoteric knowledge of how wide the ravine is and actually jumping across it successfully without falling into it are two different steps. It is only when one practices the jump that one knows how much prowess is needed to span it with one jump and if one does fall into it, how does one climb back up the harsh pointy rocks and jumps it again and again till one can jump the ravine of the Nafs with ease and strength without falling into it.
Some of the God fearing concerned women at the mosque have tried to start with the first step and that is to impart knowledge of what Allah created us for and what He has commanded us to do while we live on this earth for the meager number of years he has allocated for us.
They along with me have tried to entice the members of the Muslim community to come to these educational halaqas with all sorts of amenities starting with the promises that are in the Quran, and then with food, with charm & friendship, with offers of free babysitting and car-pooling and a personal pick up service, and even retreats at the ocean front with renowned speakers.
We have failed so far to entice the community women.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) of rich food, mindless entertainment, Bollywood and Holly wood and a race against the Joneses keeps the American Muslims and Muslimas of our community in a state of stupor.
What will awaken them?
What will make them sensitive to the fact that their life clock is ticking and there no guarantee that they will reach old age? What will sensitize them to time running out before they are able to return to their Creator (tawbah) to beg for His forgiveness?
What will make them aware that Time passed and Deeds done cannot be recovered and our Day of Reckoning begins with our first moment in the grave? and that Death is a surprise and a closure of our Book of Deeds.
Four young boys from our community between the ages of 19-20 have died suddenly over the last few years. Several men have had repeated heart attacks and yet the stupor of Ghafala, a raging Nafs, an Inflexible attitude of “my way or the Highway” and an obliviousness to human mortality is pervasive in its persistence.
Is there any hope to wake up this crowd? And How?or should one withdraw (as suggested by one young person)?