Thieves of the Dark, Chapter 81, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books

An abrasive darkness surrounds me in this cold and spiteful night—an unrelenting opacity shrouds me and I cannot see our divinity and not even confront my doubts.  I struggle with myself and my fervor hope is to deceive myself—to believe that the tests of life have left me only stronger, but I fear that I am only fooling myself. “A believer sees through the light of God,” the Prophet said, but in the prism of darkness, I see shadows borne out by the layers of clouds obstructing the soul and mind.


My beloved, my master, mentor and tutor…some of my dearest disciples have forsaken me and forsook the Conference with me, but perhaps I forsook myself when I cared.  This is what I tell myself—I say: “Stand by principle, tread your path, and let deserters find their own way,” and the temptation is great to find fault and pronounce guilt.  But again, Prophet instructed: “If you are tempted to dwell upon the faults of others, remember your own,” and the Prophet, may he be blessed had said: “He who sees his own faults is truly blessed.” Basked in Your supernal light, I confront the shadows of being and the mind, and I confront my faults and they pursue me without reprieve and so I throw myself upon your unbounded mercy. Yes, my Lord, a true Muslim does not dwell on the faults of others, and turns the critical gaze onto himself but what of a person who sees the faults of a nation and its failures are inseparable from his own?


The teacher of humanity, may he be blessed, taught: “He who is ungrateful towards people cannot be grateful towards God.”  But robbed of so much, we’ve lost even our sense of gratitude and our sense loyalty.  My Lord, we are a people consumed and excreted by jealousies and self-idolatry—we are a people that no longer honor the word, and we do not honor the sage bearing the word, although they are the inheritors of the prophets and the guardians of what has been revealed.


My Lord, You said: “God bears witness that there is no god but Him, as do the angels, and those who are learned standing on justice.  There is no god but God, the Almighty, the All-wise.” (3:18)


Time and again, You told us that you sent your messengers to teach us the Book and Wisdom—as if the two are wedded without the possibility of divorce.


And then You warned us: “God bestows wisdom upon whomever God wishes, and who is granted wisdom is given a great good but only those with probing intellects can take heed.” (2:269)


Then, You taught us that what stands behind wisdom and the realization of justice is the scale, for You said: “We have sent our messengers with guidance and sent with them the Book and the Scale so that human beings will establish justice.” (57:25)


What is the scale but the intellect that studies and realizes our divinely proportioned world?  We are but a venerated word spoken in an ethereal moment but we have meaning only in a divinely proportioned world.  It is by this divine proportion that Your beauty is manifested in our physical reality and it is by this divine proportion that justice is understood.  It is by the divine proportion that Your command was received and by the divine proportion Your primordial covenant was entered before we were born.


It is by the divine proportion that we see Your light even when we ignorantly maim our own eyes behind self-imposed blindfolds.


The true sage is not just the guardian of the revelation, but also the bearer of the intellect which is systematically applied to realize justice in this divinely proportioned world.  Such is the sage who inherited the role of the messengers, and whose knowledge furthers and guards the divinely revealed word.


But God, I am not delusional, and I know that it is to our shame that the role of the intellect in the existence of revelation remains sadly controversial.  We honor the sage who memorizes and regurgitates the revelation, but not the sage who has the wisdom to realize that revelation must be placed fully within the scale of intellect—and without the scale of intellect neither revelation nor justice can be realized. 


Today, scale and wisdom elude us and so we produce little knowledge or thought, and our creativity and inventiveness is for naught.  Shamefully, we add little to the divine proportion sustaining the universe and contribute little of great value to our world.


My beloved, the Truth behind all beauty, and the Bearer of the Balance that sustains this divinely proportioned world, I do place Your revelation on the scale, and I am tormented by the darkness that engulfs our actions and thought.


“O’ my people, give full weight and measure with justice, and do not withhold from others what is due to them; and do not go as spoilers corrupting the earth.” (11:85)


Such is our Lord’s charge, but what are our deeds?


“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and kind advice and debate with others in the kindest of manners for your Lord knows best who has strayed from God’s way and God knows best those are rightly guided.” (16:125)


Such is our Lord’s command, so what has been our speech?


“Believers be the establishers of justice as witnesses for God even be it against yourselves or your parents or relatives whether one be rich or poor God is more worthy than either [of your loyalty and fear].  Do not follow your whims lest you stray from justice and if you pervert justice or neglect it God is aware of what you do.” (4:135)


Such is our oath, but what has been our testimony?


“Good and evil are not equals.  Repel what is evil with what is good, and you will find that your enemy will become as if a close friend.  But this will not be learned except by those who have been most patient and those who have been given a great deal (of wisdom).” (41:35)


Such is the speech of our Lord, do we have the wisdom to take heed?


“Tell My people to say the most beautiful things for Satan sows dissension among people; indeed Satan is a conniving enemy to human beings.” (17:53)


Our Lord is a god of beauty, have we been faithful to manifesting the beauty of the Lord?


“…God loves al-muhsinin (the benevolent, beautiful, and good).” (3:148)


If this is what God loves, are we worthy?


God, I know that your compassion, mercy, and love envelopes us even if we are not worthy.  But how I fear that so much has been lost to the point that we have lost ourselves.  I struggle to rid myself of dreadful fears, but the severity of our condition assaults me without reprieve.


God, I confess you that we Muslims have been robbed of our brotherhood, empathy, compassion and mercy; we’ve been robbed of freedom, thought, creativity, inventiveness, and even speech; we’ve been robbed of intelligence, reasonableness, and probity; we’ve been robbed of our security, land, wealth, and peace; we’ve been robbed of our serenity, hopefulness, and dreams; we’ve been robbed of our honor, bravery, and dignity; we’ve been robbed of justice, equity, and our sense of beauty…but question is my Lord: who is the thief?


My Beloved, recalling the bliss of submission, as a Muslim, I submitted to the beauty of the light, and to the remembrance of the divine proportion that manifests Your beauty.  But I admit to You, Sustainer of the worlds, we Muslims have been robbed of so much but nothing as valuable as our own memory and our history. So who is the thief?


Nothing remains of our civilization but the bodies…the intellects, the word, the beauty is gone.  So what happened to us and what happened to what once inspired us to give the world a civilization that was full of beauty and such sparkling majesty? 


I search our history for answers, and this history is like a blade, slicing then healing then slicing me. Who was the thief?  Boredom and stagnation?  Luxury and vanity? The Crusades and their mad religious zeal?  Colonialism, imperialism, and Israel?  The West with its unrelenting interventionism and endless conspiracies?  Or, our passive acceptance of despotism and refusal to rebel and demand liberty?  Is it projecting blame and refusal to accept self-responsibility?  Is it that we relied on revelation to solve our problems without taking the role of the intellect seriously?  Or have we surrendered our religion to those who abused it, and we passively sat refusing to wrestle it out of their hands and thus honor God’s covenant and our agency? 


My Love, the possibilities are numerous and each might have contributed to our plight in the age of modernity.  In such a dark, cold, and lonely night, I remind myself that patience is a virtue and the true weapon of piety.  So I leave all my books open and sit, reading, and researching with unabated zeal.  The darkness tonight is too thick and the gash in my heart too deep.  But even in darkness; even in this darkness, I see Your light.  Although tonight this abrasive darkness hid my heart from my mind, Your empyreal light is firmly embedded in my soul.  Soon Your luminous torch will come, and the heart will be reconciled with the mind, just like revelation placed in the scale of the intellect, and together they will search and find, and they will confront the thief who robbed us of so much, especially our memory.