بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
All praise is due to Allah alone, The One who guides whom He wills, in the manners which He wills. May the best benedictions and peace be upon the beloved of Allah, Muhammad, the best example for all mankind. To proceed:
In our society, in our communities, in our homes and in our own lives there is a lack of realization of that which we profess. There are many causes for that but rather than discuss those in detail, especially with the many variations between us, it will be better for us to look at a general way towards fixing this, towards altering our realities. We want to align our lives with our faith, with our principles, with our deen and I don’t just see this as possible, I see it as a necessary part of our humanity. We have, everyone of us, the potential to be revivers of the deen, in our lives, our families and our communities. With this view, I want to share some excerpts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1842 speech entitled “Man the reformer” followed by some reflections. I entitled this,
“We, The Revivers”
Wm. Halim Breiannis
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Let it be granted, that our life, as we lead it, is common and mean; that some of those offices and functions for which we were mainly created are grown so rare in society, that the memory of them is only kept alive in old books and in dim traditions. … We are all implicated, of course, in this charge; it is only necessary to ask a few questions as to the progress of the articles of commerce from the fields where they grew, to our houses, to become aware that we eat and drink and wear perjury and fraud in a hundred commodities.
“…We must have an antagonism in the tough world for all variety of our spiritual faculties, or they will not be born. Manual labor is the study of the external world. The advantages of the riches remain with him who procured them, not with the heir. When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health, that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands. But not only health, but education is in the work. … But when he comes to give all the goods he has year after year collected, in one estate to his son, house, orchard, ploughed land, cattle, bridges, hardware, wooden-ware, carpets, provisions, books, money, and cannot give him the skill and experience which made or collected these, and the method and place they have in his own life, the son finds his hands full, – not to use these things, – but to look after them and defend them from their natural enemies. To him they are not a means, but masters.
“… Better that the book should not be quite so good, and the bookmaker abler and better, and not himself often a ludicrous contrast to all that he has written. … If we look at our modes of living. Is our housekeeping sacred and honorable? Does it raise and inspire us, or does it cripple us instead? … Our expense is almost all for conformity. It is for cake that we run into debt is not the intellect, not the heart, not beauty, not worship, that costs so much. Why needs any man be rich? … We shall be rich to great purposes; poor only for selfish ones.
“…How can the man who has learned only one art, procure all the conveniences of life honestly? Shall we say all we think? – perhaps,with his own hands. Suppose he collects or makes them ill; – yet he has learned their lesson. If he can not do that, – then perhaps he can go without. Immense wisdom and riches are in that. It is better to go without, than to have them at too great a cost. … Can anything be more elegant as to have few wants and to serve them one’s self, so as to have somewhat left to give, instead of being always prompt to grab?
“…If we suddenly plant our foot, and say, – I will neither eat nor drink nor wear nor touch any food or fabric which I do not know to be innocent, or deal with any person whose whole manner of life is not clear and rational, we shall stand still. Whose is so? Not mine; not thine; not his. … We must not cease to tend to the correction of these flagrant wrongs, by laying one stone aright every day. … We are to revise the whole of our social structure … What is a man born for but to be a reformer…a renouncer of lies; a restorer of truth and good … all particular reforms are the removing of some impediment.
“…I ought not to allow any man, because he has broad lands, to feel that he is rich in my presence. I ought to make him feel that I can do without his riches, that I can not be bought, – neither by comfort, neither by pride, – and though I be utterly penniless, and receiving bread from him, that he is the poor man beside me. And if, at the same time, a woman or a child discovers a sentiment of piety, or a juster way of thinking than mine! I ought to confess it by my respect and obedience, though it go to alter my whole way of life.
“The Americans have no faith, they rely upon the power of the dollar, they are deaf to sentiment. … I see at once how paltry is all this generation of unbelievers, and what a house of cards their institutions are, and I see what one brave man, what one great thought executed might effect. … Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world is the triumph of some enthusiasm. … This is the one remedy for all ills, the panacea of nature. We must be lovers and at once the impossible becomes possible. … I am to see that the world is better [due to] me, and to find my reward in the act.
“…He who would help himself and others, should not be a subject of irregular and interrupted impulses of virtue, but a continent, persisting, immovable person…it is better that joy should be spread over all the day in the form of strength, than that it should be concentrated into ecstasies, full of danger and followed by reactions. … As the merchant gladly takes money from his income to add to his capital, so is the great man very willing to lose particular powers and talents, so that he gain in the elevation of his life. The opening of the spiritual senses disposes men ever to greater sacrifices, to leave their signal talents, their best means and skill of procuring a present success, their power and their fame, – to cast all things behind, in the insatiable thirst for the divine communications. A purer frame, a greater power rewards the sacrifice.”
In this short excerpt there are many wisdoms to be had for those who aim for revival of our deen, of our humanity…if we reflect. What Emerson has said in the beginning is a reality, how many of the aspects of our deen are only to be found in books rather than the lives of the scholars and imams, let alone the common believers. How many of the indigenous Muslims have came into Islam due to their certainty that it is the truth from Allah but then they leave the heavy burden of the outward on their families without explaining to them the “why” and so their families, rather than becoming luminous examples for others become weighted down by the rules and regulations. Many accepted Islam, took the time to struggle and learn, changed their lives completely for the sake of Allah, they feel the certainty and love for their deen, but the children are not given the same conviction, the same passion. If every aspect of our lives reflect the sanctity of our faith – the way we dress, speak, interact, eat, keep our homes, shop, etc. – then we would become living examples of the beauty and justice of Islam, people would come to know and understand by our examples. If we were to be grateful with little, and work to develop that on our own – and then share the little we had, we would grow content and happy. This wisdom is true but we need to actualize it, and this takes time. It will not happen all at once but step by step. It’s a process.
He then went on to mention the need to stop comparing ourselves to others. Do not allow the seeming wealth or power of others to sway you, but also do not be overcome by your own sense of pride to the point you can not take advice even from a small child. We must be like mountains unto ourselves and yet remain soft and pliable. If we live principled lives, based upon our faith, we can change our entire communities, our societies, and yes, even the world. Don’t believe me? Have you forgotten about the Sahaaba? But it takes effort on our parts. Even small deeds, if done consistently for the sake of Allah will lead our hearts to heal and expand which then gives us a greater ability for the sacrifices needed for true revival. And so this is what we will look at in a little more detail, through the lens of our Islam.
It is important – if revival of the deen in our lives, in our communities, in our time is important to us – that all that we do be made sacred. The prophet (May the best benedictions and peace be upon him) taught the believers the proper way of eating, sleeping, even relieving one’s self and in this way, the mundane became sacred. Even meeting the necessities of life became a way by which we remember our Lord, reflect upon our intentions and seek His good pleasure. Thus, everything in the life of a believer becomes an act of drawing nearer to Allah, it becomes sacred. The way a believer shops should be no different. The prophet (May the best benedictions and peace be upon him) taught us that the market places are the most abhorrent places to Allah and that they are places of the shayateen; he even taught us a supplication to make before entering a shop…and so our buying habits also must be reflected upon and brought into the realm of the sacred. What we buy is important, who we buy it from, why we are buying it – all of this should be reflected upon. Are we buying slave labor? Are we consuming oppression? Is what we are buying going to distract us from worship? From the remembrance of Allah? Will it devour our money and time and deprive us of those blessings from our Lord? Why are we buying it? Is it a necessity? Is it for Allah’s sake? Is it a tool used to seek benefit? Or is it for some selfish desire that was planted in our minds by the latest advertising ploy? We need to reflect as Emerson said, “it is for cake that we run into debt, it is not the intellect, not the heart, not beauty, not worship, that costs so much.” So often we look at outward appearances, what we have and what others have compared to yet others still. Such care is given in what is possessed, what is owned, but would it not be better if one owned little of possessions but was wealthy in their virtues. True richness is found in one’s state of being, in their relationship with their Lord, not in one’s possessions. For this reason, for true revival to take place, our habits of commerce must be brought into the realm of the sacred.
To be austere, ascetic and frugal is from elegance. Part of the pledge given by some of the companions when giving the oath of allegiance to the prophet (May the best benedictions and peace be upon him) was that they would not ask the creation for anything – so much that if one dropped his riding stick he would stop his camel, dismount and retrieve it himself rather than ask another to hand it to him. To have little need of anything and to be able to secure those needs by one’s own hands is a source of true wealth and freedom. Whatever one can not attain, is it truly a need to have or just a deep want? Our homes, our habits, our perspectives must all be brought towards a recognition of this reality if we want to have any lasting impact. If you are seeking to revive the deen but always asking of others, always in a state of need, your call will not have the same impact as one who does not see themselves in any need of the creation. So many anecdotal evidences are there as evidence, be it from the lives of the companions or the great scholars of the past.
Once we arrive at the dignity of seeking the sacred even in the mundane, seeking the sacred in our consumer habits, seeking the sacred in seeking to satisfy our needs with our own hands – when we stand up to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, when we stand up for truth and justice, when we stand up to advise others toward uprightness and virtue we will be listened to with more willingness. Why is this? For two basic reasons. The first reason is that our enjoining good and forbidding evil will be seen in the light of sincerity rather than as somehow self-serving. The second reason is that it will be backed by a confidence and conviction that can only come with a sense of self-reliance. In this way no one will be able to buy us out with wealth, titles, power or authority. And similarly, due to sincerity, we will be willing to learn and take advice from even the most humble of sources. Is this other than the example we have from Allah’s beloved (May the best benedictions and peace be upon him).
Working towards revival of deen in our own lives and the life of our communities will take time. It must be done step by step, stage by stage. This is the sunnah, not instant reform but hard work and struggle over time. Removing the impediments and implementing virtues one at a time, day by day, week by week. If we work sincerely for Allah, out of love for Him, for His messenger (May the best benedictions and peace be upon him) and for our communities, we will find changes that we thought impossible becoming manifest before us. But we must act, taking up the role of revivers within our own lives, our own homes. Again, with the emphasis not being upon irregular bursts of activities but persistent consistency, living according to the principles of our deen.
The more effort we place in making the mundane aspects of our lives sacred – our housekeeping, our shopping, our eating, the clothes we wear, our conversations, etc. – the more we will find our hearts expanded. The more our hearts expand the more strength we will find to continue struggling moment by moment to spread light in a darkened time, to spread beauty in the midst of the offensive, to spread hope and faith to the hearts of mankind – and is that not our aim, we, the revivers.
It really does amaze me how the voices of Classic American essayists captured so many of the needs of the indigenous Muslim community in our time. Often it is sufficient simply to leave their words as they are…I simply add in order that we do not divorce such understandings from our deen; so that we understand that there is no need to look outside of our own deen, our own traditions to find the solutions for all of our problems…wherever and whenever we may be.
And with Allah alone is all success.