Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In the Footsteps of the Prophet

Speaking Up for 9/11 Truth is "Deep Sunnah"

By Kevin Barrett, www.truthjihad.com

Muslims everywhere try to imitate the Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, just as serious Christians practice imitatio christi, "imitation of Christ." Following the sunnah (prophetic tradition) is central to the religion of Islam.

Muslims follow the Prophet's example in prayer, and also in daily life. Some carry it too far. The Taliban, for example, made it mandatory for all men to wear beards of prophetic length. Personally, I think that's a wee bit excessive.

Emulation of the Prophet is generally a good thing. But blind imitation of every superficial aspect of his life, without consideration of the deeper meaning, risks missing the point. You want to eat the way the prophet ate? Fine. You'll feel a connection with an age-old spiritual tradition, and also save money on silverware. Want to travel the way he traveled? A bit impractical, unless you live somewhere where walking beside camels is feasible. Want to marry as many women as he married? Allah has specifically told you not to.

There are, of course, many time-tested traditions about what we should emulate. Alongside those traditions, there is the all-important issue: How can we follow the prophetic example at the inner, spiritual level?

If the best guide to the surface details of the prophetic life is the Hadith, the collections of reports passed down from eyewitnesses, the ultimate guide to following in the spiritual footsteps of the Prophet, peace upon him, is the Qur'an. To understand why, we will need to take a brief detour through literary theory.

Literary theorist M.M. Bakhtin has explained that the deep meaning of any text or utterance depends on who is speaking to whom, in what context. The exact same words can mean entirely different things if they are spoken in anger or in jest, by a lover or a killer, in a playful tone of voice to a friend or harshly to a stranger. In many great works of literature, the issue of who is speaking to whom in what context often becomes extremely rich and nuanced. Baktin called this feature of texts dialogism, and praised such richly nuanced texts as dialogic.

The Qur'an, widely regarded as a literary masterpiece even by non-Muslim readers, is an extremely dialogic text. That may strike some non-Muslims as odd, since the Qur'an is the direct word of the one omnicient God who can simply say "be" and it is. But the next time you read the Qur'an, ask yourself two questions: Who is Allah speaking to? And who or what is this "Allah" anyway?

Let's look at the second question first. In the Qur'an, Allah has 99 names (al-asma' al-husna) and speaks of him/her/itself in both the first and third persons. That's right: Allah alternatively refers to Allah as the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate, the All-Majestic, the All-Knowing, and so on, using as pronouns both "we" and "he/it." This shifting of pronouns and perspectives emphasizes that Allah is not any particular entity, but rather the limitless source of all entities.

And who is Allah's ever-shifting "we," and "he/it" addressing? The Qur'an's first addressee, of course, is the Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him. Allah speaks directly to Muhammad, telling him what to recite.

Say: Have ye imagined, if Allah should take away your hearing and your sight and seal your hearts, who is the God who could restore it to you save Allah? See how We display the revelations unto them? Yet still they turn away. -- Qur'an, 6:46 (Pickthall translation)

On the one hand, Allah is telling the Prophet (pbuh) what to recite to the Muslim community. At the same time, Allah is personally speaking to the Prophet, consoling and encouraging him to persevere despite the frustration he is experiencing from those who reject and deride his divinely-inspired message. Yet that personal message to the Prophet Muhammad, is at the same time a message to the entire Muslim community, consoling all Muslims in the face of the opposition they will face as they, in turn, spread the divine message.

This example illustrates an extremely important feature of the Qur'an: Whenever Allah says "qul!" (say!) s/He is telling the both the Prophet and the Prophet's audience, i.e. the entire Muslim community, to speak, to say something--in this case to ask who could restore our hearing and sight, and unseal our hearts, other than the one God, and to repeat "See how We display the revelations unto them? Yet still they turn away."

As the individual Muslim reads, recites, or listens to the Qur'an, he or she hears God speaking to Muhammad, to the community of believers, and to (or within) him- or herself all at the same time! This feature of the Qur'an is one of the secrets of its simultaneous intimacy and universality. The Qur'an is an intimate dialogue between God and the individual Muslim, an intimate dialogue between God and Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), and at the same time a universal utterance from the one Source of all creation to that entire creation.

This amazing feature of the Qur'an suggests that we emulate Muhammad not just by following his table manners, or clipping our beards to the length of his, but also (and perhaps more importantly) by taking the Qur'anic dialogue to heart the way he did, to persevere in spreading the truth the way he did.

If you really listen to the Qur'an, you'll hear its oft-repeated consolations for the heartbreaking fact that so many refuse to hear the truth: they are "deaf, dumb, and blind," there is "rust on their hearts," they mock and turn away from the truth and call it lies. As it hails the Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, the Qur'an also hails you, consoling you for the heartbreak you face as you suffer for the slights you receive as you persevere in telling an all-important truth.

But are you actually out there spreading the truth and suffering the consequences, as the early Muslims were?

In a sense you are, if you are a minimally practicing Muslim; for in that case, you are bearing witness that there is no god but God many times a day, and bearing witness to the truth of the message through your actions. But unless you are performing dawa--propagating the message of Islam where it is not always welcome--you may not be able to personally relate to Allah's consolations for those who publicly proclaim the truth and are scorned for their efforts. And the whole of the Qur'an is steeped in those consolations.

So if you really want to emulate the Last Prophet (all the prophets, in fact) get out there and publicly proclaim the truth among people who mostly don't want to hear it.

The now well-established fact that the crimes of 9/11 were committed not by Muslims, but by the enemies of Islam, is the most important historical truth of our time. Proclaiming it, especially among non-Muslims, is the most powerful form of dawa available to us today.

By doing so, you will be following deep sunnah; accomplishing hassanaat (good actions that will be rewarded); and opening up for yourself the possibility of a deeper and more intimate relationship with al-Qur'an al-Karîm, the final message of God to humankind.

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