- ActivitesHuman RightsPolitical Islam Studies
- July 10, 2009
- 15 minutes read
Love in the time of sharia
TODAY in Pakistan there are two extremes: there are those who wish to impose a rigid, literalist interpretation of religion and then there are the world-weary agnostics who are blindly averse to anything having to do with religion. Both mindsets are dangerous as they both lead to a spiritual vacuum.
There are many casualties in times of war: there are body bags and there is rubble. But perhaps the greatest loss in times like these is the loss of compassion.
Let me backtrack. A few days ago, I started making some phone calls, asking people to help out with a project I am involved in. It is a project that aims to unite the citizens of Pakistan in this time of war, asking them to affirm their solidarity with their nation in a music video by saying one line.
While most people were supportive, I came across some very disturbing attitudes. These were people who claimed to have seen it all, world-weary individuals who had simply stopped believing that anything good could ever be done or come out of a country that had let them down so many times.
They were angry. They were cynical. They had stopped believing.
It was not hard to see where they were coming from: they had had their hearts broken by a country in which retaining one’s idealism is often quite challenging. But they had also got stuck in the past. They were harbouring their past experiences, playing them in the movie projector of their mind again and again so that not only were they unable to move into the present, they were unable to recognise good when they were finally confronted by it.
It is the “I have seen too much in life to have to ever care or believe or love anything or anyone again” attitude. It is a dangerous mindset because it assumes that just because you have seen the darkness, there can be no more light.
The Sufi, i.e. the Muslim mystic, however, teaches you to do exactly the opposite. He teaches you to care, to believe and to hope because you have seen so much. He teaches you to appreciate beauty and love because you have seen the opposite. He teaches you to live in hopeful anticipation of the future. And most important of all, he teaches you to delve into the darkness you have experienced and recover light.
A great Sufi once said that, “The purity and flame of a child is special but cannot compare to the purity and flame of someone who has gone through life and kept it intact”.
He was not referring to a naïve state of not having lived; he was talking about people who had been burnt by the fire of life and yet kept their belief alive. He was referring to the softness of heart, the ability to perceive beauty and feel love for the ordinary — something we often stop doing with time.
He was talking about a zest for living that must be nurtured, fed and taken care of so it is increased, a belief in goodness that we often lose.
But if we dive deep enough, we find that flame that does not go out, which is intact and strong and pumping and keeps us from becoming cynical, jaded and knotted up.
It is easy to get disheartened; it is more challenging to retain compassion and optimism. It is a task that humans alone face. And yet it can be done. Otherwise we are playing into the hands of the extremists.
So how is it possible, one asks, to retain one’s compassion, one’s spirituality, that softness of heart when there is so much violence and conflict around us? How can we experience, what may facetiously be called, love in the time of sharia?
I use the word only seemingly facetiously because unlike our conditioning that would have us believe that these are mutually incompatible terms, they are not.
The word “love” need not allude to an illicit love affair and the word “sharia” need not conjure up images of angry, bearded men whipping young girls and burning schools.
Love is simply compassion, the ability to empathise with the needs of others and to lend a helping hand to those in need. And sharia is divine law that comes from God. For those of us who believe that God is love, any hateful laws passed under the guise of religion become evident as results of human misinterpretation.
So yes, it is possible to feel love in the time of sharia. In fact, it is our duty to try and recover the essence (tolerance, compassion and brotherhood) at a time when so many people have become obsessed with the form (rituals and appearance).
As another great Sufi said, “It is in times of greatest social upheaval that the biggest strides in spirituality are made”. The times we are living in are no exception. But the silver lining is there. To stop believing is just not an option we have anymore.