Back to Fundamentals

Posted by on Mar 31st, 2011 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

By Yousef Drummond

We often hear from parents and educational authorities that reading is fundamental. 

Those of us who respond to their advice seriously understand one thing:  that there are both obvious and implicit consequences arising from the art of reading, moving from the fundamentals to a complete mastery over a book based on one’s interpretation it; first, the child learns to recognize each letter along with its accompanying sound; then she learns to recognize words; then she begins to learn established rules of grammar along with their meaning – the noun, the verb, the object, and so on.  Then she learns the meaning of the word; then she begins to use words in appropriate contexts; then she begins to read whole sentences.  But this is not all.  The child then begins to learn the meaning of whole sentences along with whole paragraphs; then the child begins to read books.  But this is not all.  Soon the child begins to understand or comprehend what she or he is reading in books; then the child begins to ascertain the author’s tone and intent – that is, the author’s motivation for writing the book.  So today’s educational scholars say there is a developmental chart to effective reading, from a child right up to adulthood through old-age.  

We see at once a progression, from letters to whole words to sentences to paragraphs to relationships between paragraphs to understanding the book the child is reading to an educated guess as to the author’s motivation for writing the book she or he is reading.  Eventually then, adults understand that reading becomes an art-form.

I was once reading a book in the musjid one recent late afternoon that details the fundamentals of Islam, while a hafiz of Qu’ran was busy correcting young boys and girls (both genders sitting separately, of course) who busied themselves with correct pronunciation of Arabic letters.  Nonetheless, this hafiz of Qu’ran was able to listen attentively to each child’s pronunciation within the cacophony of sounds while correcting each child without effort.  This hafiz of Qu’ran would often “twist” a child’s ear when necessary or hit the child’s head with a pencil.  

He then turned to me, perhaps because I admired the children’s effort at learning Arabic.  He then told me I was becoming a fundamentalist because I was absorbed in the fundamentals of Islam.  I was reading a text entitled “Taleem-ul-haqq”.  It details the correct manner of ablution, prayer, and so on.  

The word “fundamentalist”, as it pertains to religion, has become a dirty word these days and has gone through numerous permutations in meaning.   Our readers are acquainted with religious terms – such as Jihad – that have originally been used by learned religious scholars many centuries ago in an age of Almighty Allah’s (SWT) prophets (peace be upon them all!), the rightly guided Khalifas, only to be disfigured and distorted by modern detractors – many of them atheistic philosophers – in the early seventeenth and eighteen centuries.   There is an active debate among scholars as to the historical circumstances that gave rise to a separation of religion and science in Europe during this time, with the latter gaining legitimacy and the former losing its influence on European societies.  While scientific reasoning triumphed, resulting in dramatic technological progress, prophetic revelation waned and rendered insignificant.      

We at once remember the case of Timothy McVeigh, who was the mastermind behind the detonation of a truck-bomb in front of a large building in Oklahoma City in April of 1995, resulting in 168 deaths and 450 injuries.  This incident has since been referred to as the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Sources say that this young man, who enlisted in the U.S. Army for a time and was awarded by the military for his status as a “top-scoring gunner”, became increasingly disenchanted with the U.S. government, going so far as to plan assassinations of Attorney Generals and Judges.  Mr. McVeigh harbored a deep resentment, over time, of an infamous incident in Waco, Texas, during which the Federal Government executed a search warrant for religious cult leader David Koresh, during which a gun-battle ensued.  Consequently, 76 people, along with 20 children and David Koresh himself, died in a fire at the compound, in February of 1993.  Timothy McVeigh is described as a fundamentalist because he translated his anger – precipitated by well-worn political ideologies of dissent – at the U.S. government into action.  This young man destroyed a Federal Building and was summarily convicted of killing countless innocent people.  He remained unrepentant up to his execution in late 2001[1].  

It is now clear that this young man is a “fundamentalist” in the sense that he believed he did the right thing.  I am not a mental health expert by any means, but I venture to say that a confluence of destructive political and religious ideologies influenced his thinking, and no one was able to convince him otherwise.             

So I ask myself:  will I, as a “religious fundamentalist”, plot one day to drive a truck-bomb near a Federal Building here in any state in the U.S. with the intent of detonating it, thereby killing innocent lives because of the U.S. government’s perceived imperialist goals in the Middle East?  Of course not.  Yet a vast majority of Americans, with the help of today’s media, believe that “Muslim fundamentalists”, such as me, will one day create mischief by fomenting violence and killing innocent lives.

Religious scholars now say that many of us have replaced the simplicity of Islam with destructive political ideologies such as Marxism and Communism.  There is simply no relationship between the simplicity of faith and practice and such political ideologies.  Implicit in such ideologies are germs of human resentment that only tarnishes human hearts and minds.  Many of us are unaware that such political ideologies guide us and others to self-destructive ends.

I simply want to learn, through faith and practice, the fundamentals of Islam, such as the correct manner of making ablution for the salaat, or prayer, along with the correct manner of making the salaat, based on what the Noble Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu-alaihi-wa-salam) taught his Companions; and that is all.  I want to learn as much I can about this glorious religion and to practice it sincerely for the Sake of Allah (SWT) Only, and that is all.  That I am on the road to becoming a “Muslim fundamentalist” simply doesn’t mean that I’m going to one day create mischief on the Earth by blowing myself up along with countless others. 

The fundamentals of Islam, when implemented sincerely by a Muslim into faith and practice, is the only secure foundation from which she or he is able to formulate countless hypothetical situations she finds herself with on a day-to-day basis, without hesitation.  The fundamentals of Islam are the only secure foundation from which a Muslim may want to pursue advanced studies in Islam.  A Muslim may find themselves in real-life situations that impede her or him from practicing this glorious religion without hesitation, such as what to do when there is no water available for ablution in order to perform the salaat, and so on.   

In modern politico-philosophical usage the term “fundamentalist” implies a return to a “pure state of innocence”, much like that of a new-born babe.  A child is born and is thus uncorrupted by society.  Think of the reverse, that of a man seeking a return to that of a child – much like a blank slate.  This mental reversal almost always implies an emotional consequence as well –as manifested by resentment, or anger at either modern democratic society or its government.   It is here that political ideologies – whether that of Marxism or Communism – comes into play.  Almost always a person tries to explain by means of political ideologies the various “causes” of the deterioration of modern, democratic societies.  One such criticism is that modern, democratic societies are “atomistic”, thereby rendering each individual as living in a “void” apart from religion and even persons they meet on a daily basis.  Some individuals explain the deterioration of modern societies in Neitzschean terms – that God is dead, that people in modern, democratic societies are akin to “herds”, meaning that everyone is “conditioned” in a manner that befits modern, democratic governments, thereby stunting individual creativity.  If man is a “political animal”, as Aristotle remarked, then the person muses that modern, natural governments, with its laws (perceived as restrictions on individual creativity) “creates” societies where every-day life for everyone is “mundane”.  We often read bumper-stickers that say:  “I owe, I owe, I owe; so off to work I go”.

While such explanations of the state of modern, democratic societies are attractive and can be worn much like a “mental helmet” on a daily basis, such explanations are couched in humanistic terms, which dictate that I am the fashioner of my own fate, that I treat my will as independent of Almighty Allah’s (SWT) Commands and the Sunna of the Noble Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu-alaihi-wa-salam), Whom Almighty Allah (SWT) Deputed as a mercy for all mankind. 

Karl Marx, among other modern political philosophers, succumbed to the ideology of humanism, thereby offering his interpretations on the “causes” of “atomistic”, democratic societies – unbridled capitalism.   Such political explanations have resulted in many wars during the middle of the twenty-first century – the United States, for example, waged a propagandistic war as well as military expeditions against the spread of Marxism and Communism throughout the world.

Such political ideological explanations are nothing more than materialistic interpretations of history and of society (italics mine).  These explanations have nothing to do with anything else.  What religious scholars do know, and I agree with them, is that all of us have lost the remembrance of Almighty Allah (SWT); that His Attributes of essence and of action encompasses all things, even what we instinctively call “natural” events such as tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.  That a strong faith in Almighty Allah (SWT) and His Rasool (sallalahu-alaihi-wa-salam) escapes human reason is no justification for abandoning it.  I, for one, have come to understand that such materialistic explanations of history and society are bound exclusively by physical laws only.  Consequently, many of us cling to “apparent” cause-and-effect explanations of political and social reality; and we are not even certain of what “causes” what.  Almighty Allah (SWT) is far above such laws and far above His Creation!   Anyone who has a firm foot-hold on faith in Almighty Allah (SWT) is not lost in the “maze of multiplicity”.  And anyone who believes sincerely in “La ilaha illallah” will surely abandon this “mental helmet”, much like salt dissolves in water!

There is much talk about “Islamo-fascism” and “radical Islam” these days.  I pay them no mind.  I ignore the pundits, not because of resentment, but because what they say on television is of no merit to me.  That is not the Islam I have come to know.  Islam is a threat to society, but not in the way the pundits take it to be.  Islam is revolutionary because when someone sincerely believes in Almighty Allah (SWT) and His Rasool (sallalahu-alaihi-wa-salam), then that person’s heart becomes clean of the rust accumulated by sin over the years.  

About a month and a half ago a Grand Mufti from India conducted a bayan, or talk, at Masjid Hamza here in Elmont, New York in Urdu.  Many scholars, along with worshippers, were in attendance that evening.  For ease of communication another scholar translated his bayan into English.  The Grand Mufti remarked that “the kafirs (non-believers) are on top”, that is, they are in control of the current political climate world-wide.  Nonetheless, the Grand Mufti also remarked it is our utmost duty to convince others about the simplicity of Islam bit by bit, until everyone has heard of Islam.  

Learning the fundamentals of Islam and putting them sincerely into practice is the only means by which Muslims transmit the simplicity of Islam to others.

Some of us find the assessment that the kafirs (disbelievers) currently hold the reigns of political, economic and social power hard to swallow.  The Grand Mufti is right on target that night:  the kafirs (non-believers) currently hold the reigns of secular political, economic and social power. 

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf remarked some years ago that the “Golden Age” of Islam is long gone.  There are no Khalifas around at this time.  The Ottoman Empire dissolved during the early twenty-first century.  Many of us deny that this assessment is the case.  Believe it. 

Almighty Allah (SWT) has clearly spelled out, in the Holy Qu’ran, three types of people in this world:  those who believe, those who don’t believe, and those who deliberately harbor belief but are steeped in disbelief; that is, they say they believe in Almighty Allah (SWT) but in reality they don’t.   Some of us seize on the opportunity to cast such people in Manichean terms – by rationally categorizing people in boxes. 

Only Almighty Allah (SWT) is able to Judge each of our hearts.  I cannot tell a person walking on the street that they are a kafir, because in reality I don’t know.  

Last week a few brothers and I went to a Dunkin Donught’s store in Elmont, New York.  One brother spoke of the wonders of Almighty Allah (SWT), whereby scientists are now beginning to unravel the complex manner of communication among bees.  I remarked that there are scientists who know that they do not and cannot know Who is the Power behind all power, Almighty Allah (SWT), and as a result they rest in the arrogant assumption that they are masters of their own fate (italics mine).  But as I left their company later on that morning I realized that I cannot make that judgment.  I cannot judge people’s hearts.   

There have been throughout the ages many scientists who, while working in scientific laboratories and are discovering many new types fo information about Nature, conclude that there must be some Power that is responsible for the workings of the Universe and in consequence become believers.  There are also those who refuse to believe, and there are those who claim they are believers but in reality they are not.  It is Almighty Allah (SWT) that elevates and debases human hearts.  But none of us can judge the spiritual state of another person’s heart. 

The only duty we, as Muslims, have is to tell others about Islam.  But there is more.  We also have to remind Muslims who are straying from the Truth to get back on the straight path.  We have much work to do.  We will fail in our duty because of our ignorance of Islam.  We don’t know the fundamentals.

So there is one problem:  many of us don’t know the fundamentals of Islam, and therefore we do not practice it sincerely.  And if we fail to practice Islam sincerely, we certainly are unable to tell others about Islam.  If we, as Muslims, cannot tell others about Islam, then how are they to know the correct information about Islam?  Almighty Allah (SWT) is able to transform human hearts and therefore transform human lives.  If that is the case, and it is true, then only by learning and practicing the simplicity of Islam are we equipped to tell others about this glorious religion.

That same morning other brothers were discussing some ayats of the Holy Qur’an.  One brother talked about the meaning of the word “shaheed” – or witness.   He remarked that the true meaning of the word has eroded over time, and now there is but a limited meaning of the word today.  I then began to shake my head in shame. There are Muslims who fight in the Name of Almighty Allah (SWT), but are they only claiming to do so?  Are they doing so for their personal desires only?

We cannot know. We are now living in confusing times.  What we think is true is actually false.  What we think is good for us is in reality bad for us. 

We need to get back to the fundamentals of the Islamic faith.   Only then are we able to sincerely practice this glorious religion, and only then can we inform others about Islam.  

Whatever benefit I and others gain from this column is only from Almighty Allah (SWT).

The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at:             

[1] Timothy McVeigh.  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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