Monday, July 06, 2009

Sayid Qutb, Morality and Pinnochio

I am almost finished with reading Sayid Qutb's book "Milestones on the Way" which I hope to post something on at some point soon. But an interesting thing occurred whilst I was reading it yesterday, I came across a passage that he quotes from the Qur'an and for some reason this verse really resonated with me:

فأعرض عمّن تولى عن ذكرنا و لم يرد الا الحياة الدنيا. ذلك مبلغهم من العلم, ان ربك هو أعلم بمن ضل عن سبيله و هو أعلم بمن اهتدى
النجم 19-20

So avoid those who have abandoned remembering Us and only wanted this life. That is the limit of their knowledge. Your God knows who has strayed from his way and He knows who has followed it.

(al Najm 19-20)

There is something which people used to worry about a lot in human history such as the development of a good, virtuous and upright character. The ancient and medieval philosophers had all worried about it and so did the major faiths which give people signposts for achieving these traits. Yet we are told that so few had the patience, the courage or the intelligence to pursue this way. This tendency to be stupid exists today and in fact it is worse because it is now all pervasive. Everywhere I look in London I see people who are brash, loud arrogant and selfish. The same is true in other countries but perhaps not as bad as it is here or in the United States. They do not see themselves that way of course, nobody does, but then again we like to be with people who would make us feel as if we are not evil but good. But that is what they are. It was this chain of thought which reminded me of the strangest of things! I had forgotten how much I had loved the film Pinnochio as a child. I even had an illustrated story that was read to me over and over and I would, as children do, also watch it endlessly until I almost memorised it. There was a scene in Pinnochio which had a profound impact on me as a little boy, the one where he joins a loud, brash and rude group of boys and runs away from home to go and have 'fun' in a fair. In this fair, the boys can do what they like, they can even 'smoke' cigars and drink beer like 'adults'. There are no restrictions, no limits and no rules.

Unfortunately after they have their 'fun' it turns out that the fair is run by an evil man who casts a spell on them. All those who drink cigars and smoke beer are turned into jackasses and then caged in boxes to be sold to salt mines, circuses, farms or other horrid places. Pinnochio is fortunate, but he sees all those he thought were his friends get dragged to the most horrible of fates. It was probably the finality of such a horrible fate, with no hope of a second chance or redemption, which would bother me so much back then. That theme figures strongly in the scene and I imagine it did have strong religious connotations, a child friendly version of what eternal damnation must be like.

The scene is actually quite disturbing and I don't think it ever left me. Especially with all the other fears that my mother (bless her) had implanted in my head such as the fear of drugs, the fear of stealing and the fear of lying because Allah would burn me with fire. I would rebel against this 'nonsense' when I grew older but something inside me always pulled me away from the worst of things that people can do these days. When I would visit nightclubs many years ago, I would imagine people there looked like gorilla's in a bizarre mating ritual, they looked so primitive and ridiculous regardless of how gorgeous the woman would look or how smart and gel-ed up the man chatting to her would be. I would feel disgusted that I had happily relished mixing in such an environment where alcohol, cigarettes and far worse (in toilet cubicles) would be taken. I also felt disgusted with myself for having spent so long seeing women as just objects to be used, as game to be pursued and hunted down. That is actually what many of the women in these places are, because they do want to be hunted down and they did want to be objects to the 'best' man out there. It could be human instinct but it just didn't feel right.

I guess Allah sometimes wants us to fall in the mud so that we can appreciate the cleansing effects of water but that does not mean that we should seek this kind of environment. I don't agree with people who think you should go out and 'experience' life (as they think this is), as if this rubbish and the horrible people you would meet during this time is a necessary rite of passage for us. There is a real danger of corruption, not just of the body, as the tired, flaccid and tattood bodies of those who go through this are testament to, but also of the soul. Restraint, patience, politeness, modesty, all these are qualities that people in the 'big' cities of the world now ridicule. Aside from these probably the biggest quality that is now missing is shame.

I think shame is a wonderful feeling to have. When a child first begins to feel shy or shame it is because they are starting to become self aware. They are not sure if what they have done is acceptable or not. When they do good, parents then commend the child and when they do bad, the parents rebuke them. At least that is how it is supposed to be and this is a process which Muslims in fact carry out throughout their lives. There is a much maligned phrase الأمر بالمعروف و النهي عن المنكر calling for good and restraining from evil, which expresses this philosophy perfectly I think. It is, I have now discovered, the Islamic answer to the English philosophy of only having the 'right' to interfere when ones actions would 'harm' others no matter how immoral or outrageous we think they are. A view that is taken to be dogma today, even in the Arab world. However I believe this is a fallacy, for immorality is an active element which spreads effortlessly through a society since it is likeable, easy and seductive. Morality on the other hand is a component which can only be brought about through action. Not just any action, but an action rooted in a will which derives its morality from something other than just a persons desires and fancies. For this reason, morality is what I like to call, a 'passive' element in a society.

When I say society I refer to it as a collection of human beings and not as a state. Society has its roots in family, and when I have a family, shame and fear will have their rightful place in raising the children - not as tools of tyranny, but of mercy. Whilst I cannot, and rightly so, make their decisions or live their life for them, the least I can do is plant the right seeds in their mind so that when they do come across the crazy, sexy and cool but ultimately misguided people, or as the Quranic verse above says, those who desire only this world then they have a better chance of surviving their own individual experience with Fitna. My Aunt has a nice saying about the stern way her generation were raised. She said our parents disciplined us so that the world wouln't have to in the future. I agree with her, when the world teaches us a lesson, it is a crueller teacher than any strict parent.

In the mean time, please find linked the scene in Pinnochio when the boys discover they have been misled and lied to, and when they start transforming into donkeys...


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you came back! Though I am late in tuning back into this blog but you seem to have come back stronger than ever.

This post in particular really struck a chord with me...something I've been thinking about myself...though I'd like to develop on it a bit.

Muhammad Abdo wrote that when he visited the West he found Islam but no Muslims and upon his return to the Arab world he countenanced many Muslims but no Islam....this is something I really felt since I went back to Egypt. Whilst in the UK, I always believed that I would become much closer to my religion 'back home' and that people would lead better lives in a Muslim country but actually just the opposite. I found that people tend to take the values our faith prescribe for granted and just because they pray five times a day (or not) and fast in Ramadan then theycan behave as badly as they like, treat people as poorly as they wish and generally be corrupt, cyncial and completely concerned only with this life rather than the hereafter which is ironically being repeated on shops, buses, subways, on posters in Quranic recordings which in the end become part of the background and taken for granted.

I found that in the UK people may not have the religious element but they certainly posess better ethics...perhaps because they are encouraged to think about it whilst in Egypt it is all prescribed and people are not even encouraged to think about religion just act out the part.

On a different note...not all girls go to nightclubs to be "pursued and hunted down" some just go to have fun with friends and dance...though I admit this may be the minority.

Anyway I'm glad you're back Wassim :)

Maysaloon said...

Thanks for that A!
Yes, life has its ups and downs but we have to keep going I guess. What you say about Egypt is very similar to Syria, at least in parts of it. I don't know how long the situation can stay like this without some kind of adjustment taking place. I mean it's almost intolerable at the moment as it it. And I feel sorry for women who have to put up with this kind of behaviour.

Thanks for the warm welcome!!