Star Crossed: Part Five

Star Crossed: Part Five

Muslim Futurism

He ran endlessly through the pitch black jungle, leaping effortlessly over the massive detritus of mangled roots littering the forest floor. Using his bio-sonar to navigate the dense wilderness surrounding the Cluster’s outpost, he could hear in the distance the terrifying sounds of the carnivorous creatures that infested the lowlands. Only a few more clicks separated him from his camouflaged jumper. Blowing his own cover to protect another agent was probably the most reckless thing he’s ever done. Running for his life while trying to avoid the Cluster’s acolytes and the ravenous local wildlife was certainly not how he originally planned on ending his mission, but strategy demanded this sacrifice of him.

The grove of old Socoma trees keeping out of sight the clearing where he hid his jumper finally came to view. These giant trees, resembling wooden towers sculpted from obsidian, often grew to unimaginable heights in close proximity. Linking their…

View original post 2,355 more words

Understanding Khaldunian Sociology (Part 1)

Understanding Khaldunian Sociology (Part 1)

“The substantive interest of Ibn Khaldun in both the Muqaddimah and the Kitab al-‘Ibar, lies in the explanation of the formation and decline of Maghribian  and Arab states” (Alatas, 2014: 22). In his study of the rise and fall of north African states, Ibn Khaldun compared the social organization of pastoral nomadic societies to that of sedentary societies. He posited that the differences observed between these two types of societies are the result of inherent differences in their ‘asabiyyah; a concept often translated as group feeling or social cohesion. “Ibn Khaldun’s thesis was that groups with strong ‘asabiyyah could establish political rule over those with weak ‘asabiyyah” (Alatas, 2014:22). He saw the progression from nomadic civilization toward a sedentary one as a natural process where the advent of sedentary lifestyle is in fact the desired outcome of bedouin life. He postulated that all human societies evolve from a rather primitive lifestyle toward a far more complex one entailing grand cities, sophisticated cultures, and an opulent lifestyle.

According to him, the concept of ‘asabiyyah plays an essential role in this progression. “He establishes asabiyya as the dynamic force in history and the development of any political system” (Mirawdeli, 2015:82). ‘Asabiyyah refers to the social bond that provides stability and strength to social groupings. “This abstract concept conveys the idea of the bond that ensures the cohesion of a social group just as, analogously, the tendons ensure the cohesion of flesh to the bones” (Baali, 1988:44). Ibn Khaldun clarified that such a bond is not only born of consanguineal relations but is also social, psychological, physical, and political in nature. The superior ‘asabiyyah enjoyed by nomadic bedouins gave them a stronger social cohesion than the sedentary groups living in urban areas where they’ve established their dynasties. This strong social cohesion gave them both “the aggressive and defensive strength” necessary to eventually take over sedentary groups with a weakened ‘asabiyyah (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). A diminished social bond leaves settled groups at the mercy of nomadic/pre-urban bedouin tribes. These tribes often relied on the cities of the settled groups to acquire the basic necessities of life. This scarcity resulting from their precarious lifestyle promoted cooperation and mutual reliance amongst the members of the tribe which brought about a stronger and more vigorous ‘asabiyyah.

Ibn Khaldun assigned to religion an important role in the creation and the strengthening of ‘asabiyyah. He used as an example the advent of Islam in the Arab Peninsula where religion provided a spiritual bond between disparate Arab tribes and gave them a common cause for which to fight (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 126). Islam served as a unifying force and created a strong social cohesion amongst the Arab tribes joining the nascent Muslim nation. This unification allowed the pre-urban tribes to establish royal authority and commence sedentary life. The strength of their bedouin ‘asabiyyah and the puissance of their religious mission allowed them to expand their territory and conquer previously settled groups (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 91).

“The role of religious ideology, then, lies in its significance as necessary “additional power” that supports the struggle of a powerful asabiyyah, the Quraysh in the case of Islam, to overpower those groups that are equal or superior to it in strength(…) Furthermore, according to Ibn Khaldun, religious ideology can materialize only if it conforms with and responds to the material conditions and needs of the life of the society it addresses. Islam was successful not only because Muhammad belonged to a dominating “house” with a powerful asabiyya (…) but also because his teachings were congruent with the desert vision and material reality of the Arabs” (Mirawdeli, 2015:97).

The primitive culture of the tribes is one focused exclusively on satisfying the basic needs. It is a life of austerity and extreme precarity. In what Ibn Khaldun called the stage of badawa (pastoral nomadic) the tribes are mostly preoccupied with ensuring their survival. This made unity a crucial element to the existence of the group. In order to bring this about, they needed to create a “dominating element” (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). ‘Asabiyyah allows an individual within the group to acquire a legitimate power that gives him “Mulk” a royal authority. “Hence, asabiyya expresses itself in the form of legitimatising the restraining power of a person among the group, giving him mulk, royal authority” (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). The group willingly submits to his authority which only further strengthens their cohesion as a group. Once the ruler achieves his hegemony over his own group, he is now poised to extend it to neighbouring tribes. Eventually, consanguineal relations lose their importance as the primary source of ‘asabiyyah to be replaced by a far more abstract understanding of power. The chieftain that previously held royal authority over the group is replaced by a state based on a “single great ‘asabiyyah” (Mirawdeli, 2015:85).

“Thus, Asabiyya gives a group the superiority without which royal authority cannot be achieved. At the same time, by making social organization possible, it establishes the first condition of umran. And historical evolution, the transition from Badawa to sedentary culture, is concurrent with the transformation of royal authority into a fully developed state. In this sense, civilization is no more than the manifestation of the function and reality of the State” (Mirawdeli, 2015:85).

Sedentary life on the contrary is one predicated on conveniences and luxury. With a large number of individuals living in close proximity to one another in cities they’ve settled, the production of goods increased, and a large quantity of surplus labour became available for the manufacturing of luxuries (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 94). But, according to Ibn Khaldun the development of all these superfluities is what eventually triggered the degeneration of the group and led to the decline of its power and strength (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 94). The simplicity, the roughness, and the simple devotion and allegiance found in the original group eroded with increasing wealth and power. The comforts of sedentary life are not however the only thing that precipitated the decline of the group. When the ruler gained absolute power and started excluding his people from the royal authority he enjoyed due to their voluntary submission to his dominance, he started to sow the seeds of discord and weakened the very ‘asabiyyah to which he owed his authority (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 95).

Ibn Khaldun postulated in his theory of state formation that all human societies are caught in this cyclical process; from humble and simple beginnings, to opulent cultures and lifestyle, followed by erosion and decline. In his theory he identified four stages progressing from badawa (desert life) to hadara (civilization). The first stage is the period of establishment, where group solidarity is primarily based on familial ties and religious kinship. Life at this stage is one of great precarity and the survival of the group is what matters most. The rulers at this stage are chieftains who endeavour to “perfect themselves by exhibiting admirable qualities demonstrating, among other things, their capacity for administrating God’s law” (Dale, 2015: 187). In the second stage, the ruler succeeds in monopolizing the royal authority and acquires absolute power. This hegemony by the ruler coincides with the erosion of the ‘asabiyyah that began on the basis of familial group solidarity. The ruler can now build a proper state with features such as a complex administrative bureaucracy, a paid army, and advisors to counsel him.

The third stage is characterized by the abundance of luxury and the increasing importance of leisure as a defining aspect of sedentary life. “Monarchs now found it increasingly necessary to increase taxes to support their extravagant lives and were initially able to do so because their cowed subjects did not resist” (Dale, 2015:192). The ruler uses his authority to satisfy his personal needs. He then spends exorbitant amounts on public works and on the beautification of his cities. The state enjoys economic prosperity, and high culture is developed through the crafts, fine arts, and the sciences. Cultural pursuits gain avid supporters amongst the ruling class and the upper strata of society. Leisure and self-indulgence become important aspects of life.

In the fourth stage luxury and comfort are now defining features of society. Life is centered around the search for contentment and satiation. Complacency, corruption, and decadence take hold in the once morally upright group. The ruler indulges in depraved behavior while neglecting the state. “The nobility, superior ‘asabiyyah, and other personal traits that characterized chiefs three generations earlier had, by the fourth generation, entirely dissipated” (Dale, 2015: 192). At this point, the state is starting to decline and to disintegrate. The vital forces of solidarity and religion that once provided the group with the means to their unity and success are now all but destroyed. To ensure support for his rule and to maintain the luxuries acquired, he once again resorts to raising the taxes. As the income of the state declines, it ultimately becomes impossible for the ruler to maintain his authority.

 

Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical view of history

A linear view of history first emerged in the work of St. Augustine (354-430 CE) who described history as the unfolding of God’s plan. He believed that this process which started with the creation of the world would come to an end with the Final Judgement. The growth of knowledge and the recording of past events contributed greatly to the rise of the concept of linear history (Barnes, 1948: 171). Voltaire in the eighteenth century also ascribed to a similar view, albeit more secular. He divided the evolution of history into four great ages eventually culminating in the scientific enlightenment of Man. However, the idea that history repeats itself through the rise and fall of civilizations was not completely unheard of before Ibn Khaldun’s ilm al-ijtima al-insani( science of human society).

Throughout the centuries, many historians and philosophers, such as Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Montaigne (1532-1592) held a cyclical view of history. In the modern age, both Arnold Toynbee (1884-1975) and Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) adhered to a cyclical view of history in which civilizations continuously rise and fall. In fact, Toynbee posited that the cyclical nature of history emerged as the predominant view when ancient civilizations like the Babylonians made discoveries in the field of astronomy (Bailey, 1958: 93). As they observed recurrent cosmic events (lunar month, solar year, night and day cycle), the repetitive nature of life shaped their view of history. This cyclical conceptualization is also found “in the mentality of the old Hindu civilization as well as in the rhythm of the Yin and Yang of ancient China” (Bailey, 1958: 94). In fact, the notion of world-cycles was also central to the ancient Greeks’ understanding of cosmic time. This idea was later inherited by Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius who strongly believed in the uniformity of the world.

“The idea was adopted by the Stoics and championed by Marcus Aurelius who was convinced that the world is so uniform that a man of forty has seen all that past generations saw or that future generations may see” (Bailey, 1958: 94).  

The Italian philosopher Giovanni Battista Vico elaborated in the early 1700s what he called the theory of historical returns (ricorsi). His cyclical understanding of history was mainly based on his anti-Cartesian view of humanity and his rejection of Man’s supposed rationality. Vico dismissed the natural sciences capacity to explain human phenomena, and much like Ibn Khaldun in the fourteenth century, he set out to create a “new science which could shed light on the developments in collective life” (Bailey, 1958: 94). His investigation into the human past led him to identify three stages in the life cycles of nations. These cycles followed a single constant pattern that he dubbed the storia eterna ideale. According to Vico, the progression of each nation through these stages (the eras of gods, of heroes, and of men) was preordained by Divine Providence. As a devout Christian he regarded “the old Testament’s story, until the end of the Flood, as an accurate narrative”, and in doing so played an important role in the preservation of Christian historiography.

“He believed that each nation passed through identical stages from ‘barbarism of the senses’ to true civilization and then into decadence resulting from overintellectualism, the ‘barbarism of reflection’. Here the cycle begins all over again” (Bailey, 1958: 94). 

There is an obvious difference between Ibn Khaldun’s style of investigation of history and the method used by previous philosophers and historians (Korkut, 2008: 548). Having developed a theory explaining the structure of social events, he proceeded to elaborate an investigative method to analyze them. He propounded that all social events are unique and warned against the all too common mistake of “applying a solution to a certain social problem as remedy for another (…)” (Korkut, 2008: 548). He described social phenomena as dynamic and prone to changes as opposed to being static. Hence, a solution devised for a certain social event becomes inapplicable to another. “In tandem, each social event is circumscribed by the moral, psychological, and physical atmosphere of the society from which it spurts; indeed, the relevant causes of each society are distinctive” (Korkut, 2008: 548).

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alatas, Syed Farid (2014). Applying Ibn Khaldun: The Recovery of a Lost Tradition in Sociology. London; New York: Routledge.

Mirawdeli, Kamal (2015). Asabiyyah and State: A Reconstruction of Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History, Bloomington: AuthorHouse.

Baali, Fuad (1988). Society, State, and Urbanism: Ibn Khaldun’s Sociological Thought, Albany: State University of New York Press

Ibn Khaldun; Rosenthal, Frantz; Dawood, N.J; Lawrence, Bruce B (2005). The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Dale, Stephen Frederic (2015). The Orange Trees of Marrakesh: Ibn Khaldun and the Science of Man. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Barnes, Harry Elmer (1948). Historical Sociology: Its Origins and Development, New York: Philosophical Library.

Bailey, Robert Benjamin (1958). Sociology Faces Pessimism: A Study of European Sociological Thought Amidst a Fading Optimism, The Hague: Nijhoff.

Korkut, Senol (2008) Ibn Khaldun’s Critique of the Theory of “al-Siyasah al-Madaniyyah”, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 547-570.

The Process of National Mythmaking and Canada’s Colonial Legacy

The Process of National Mythmaking and Canada’s Colonial Legacy

The significant impact of beliefs and ideas on the very underpinnings of human society is undeniable. The origins, identity, and purposes of a nation are often found in narratives creating a national-myth, which operates as the bedrock of its ideological and spiritual foundation. “What gives nationalism its power are myths, memories, traditions, and symbols of ethnic heritage and the way in which a popular living past has been, and can be, rediscovered and reinterpreted by modern nationalist intelligentsia”. One could even argue that our sense of self is directly linked to the selective, communal structure of significant events that form a unifying mythology—“unifying for those who are included; alienating for those who are excluded”.

In such a context, recollections of the past are no longer simply chronicles of previous events but rather part of a broader strategy that allows us to understand and interpret the present. Although appeals to the past are usually animated by a desire to resolve disagreements on what really took place and the accuracy of “conventional versions”, they also reflect a need to address uncertainties about whether the past is over and resolved or “whether it continues, albeit in different forms, perhaps”.  History for its part plays a crucial role in giving form and meaning to the passage of time by establishing a hierarchy of events through which some are deemed more memorable than others. This classification shapes thereafter the collective consciousness of a nation and its relation to its past. It provides a mechanism through which the collective identity is secured, the existing social order legitimized, and the national-myth becomes truth.

National myths are often crafted by political elites in order to meet practical political needs, such as enhancing regime legitimacy, mobilizing public support for government policies, or resolving sectarian divides. These myths can be used to bestow upon a nation a sense of moral superiority by legitimizing national goals and objectives. Every aspect of the past and the present are to be used in order to create a grandiose “cult of national pride” in which every achievement and every painful experience becomes part of this narrative of self-glorification. Whether the myth finds its roots in reality or whether it is primarily based on false claims of national righteousness and exploits remains a moot point. However, national myths can also become maligning myths in which history is whitewashed and past transgressions either denied or rationalized. Offenses committed in the name of the realm are justified by accusing the injured party of malicious intentions toward the nascent nation. Thus, the victims become in essence responsible for their own trauma since they are after all the architects of the own demise. Vicious narratives that denigrate others through accusations of cultural inferiority usually accompany these claims of belligerence. Once these myths are widely spread, institutionalized and propagated through media and academia, they effectively dominate the national collective memory and mold the fundamental ideas of a nation’s identity.

In Canada, “conventional” history (history which underpins our social and political conventions) has distorted the collective consciousness, overstating certain contributions while omitting others. The real history of Canada is said to begin in 1867 with the advent of the contemporary state of Canada ushered in by the establishment of European populations on this land. In this Grand Narrative, the existence of Aboriginal nations prior to that moment in history is deemed insignificant and their history irrelevant. “This mythical rendering of Aboriginal nations is one way in which Canada has avoided recognizing less savory portions of its genesis” while justifying conquest through this “historico-mythology” portrayal of Canadian history.

The reality of Canada as a settler state engaging in “colonial land theft and physical and legislative brutality” as necessary evils for the greater colonial project is glossed over in favor of the “dominant narrative of Canadian beginnings, from heroic pioneers taming uncharted wilderness (…)”. The Canadian national myth is not only steeped in self-glorification but it also provides a clever narrative through which colonial crimes are justified and their legacy ignored. In fact, racism becomes part of the basic structure of the state, seeping through the cultural life of the dominant society “both by its exclusive narrative of dominant experience and mythology, and by its stereotypical rendering of the “Other” as peripheral and unidimensional”. Aboriginal societies are depicted in this narrative as homogeneous entities lacking both the diversity of European societies and the refined complexity of European cultures. In this paradigm, the perceived political and cultural deficiency of Aboriginal societies, which rendered them “incapable of holding sovereignty or land or resisting the civilizing, modernizing impulse of colonial domination”, justifies the colonial land theft leading to the creation of Canada. While recognizing that some “blunders” might have occurred in this process of nation building, we are rapidly reminded that they pale in comparison to the greater good achieved by the birth of this nation. The continuous denial of “Canada’s origins in colonial enterprises” prevents the broader Canadian society from addressing and tackling the consequences of that initial relationship.

“The obscured reality of Canada’s colonial foundations contributes to a contemporary Canadian psychosis as we struggle to account for and deal with the consequences of that same colonialism while generally denying its reality”. This dilemma between reiterating the existing national myth and uncovering the reality behind the birth of Canada is one that is evident in the reiteration of “historical accounts that are partial and exclusionary (…)”. The history of indigenous nations, their ongoing resistance to assimilation, and their fight to exercise self-determination are treated as if adjacent or distinct from the broader Canadian history. The legacy of Canada’s colonial past is one that is seldom known by most Canadians. While today Canada prides itself on being a Multicultural society where diversity is deemed essential in strengthening the fabric of Canadian society, the same cannot be said about its founding principles as a settler state. In fact, George-Etienne Cartier a leading French-Canadian statesman and father of confederation stated the following while talking about Canadian identity:

“In our federation we should have Catholic and protestant, English, French, Irish, and Scots, and each by his efforts and his success would increase the prosperity and glory of the new confederacy.”

In this speech there is no mention of Aboriginal peoples, they are in essence excluded from what is to become the new Canadian federation. In fact, one could argue that to this day the “state continues to develop policies grounded in the foundational myths of the legitimacy of colonial and contemporary appropriation of land and resources”. In order to overcome this Canadian psychosis it is imperative to abandon the current historico-mythology in which Canadian history is grounded, and instead face the past to collectively create equitable and restitutionary bases for a common future all Canadians can enjoy.

 

 

REFERENCE:

Smith, Anthony D. (1999). Myths and Memories of the Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Green, Joyce A. (1995). Toward a détente with history: Confronting Canada’s colonial Legacy. International Journal of Canadian Studies 12, Fall.

Said W. Edward. (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.

Ajzenstat, Janet. (2003). Canada’s Founding Debates. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

Chechnya: A History Of Resistance And Revival

Chechnya: A History Of Resistance And Revival

In the fall of 2018, a confrontation in the sport of Mix Martial Arts between a young man from Dagestan and his Irish rival thrusted the Caucasus into the limelight of world stage. However, the ensuing discussions and debates revealed very quickly the persistence of often erroneous and facile narratives pertaining to that region of the world and its inhabitants. For most Westerners, to whom Islam is primarily an Eastern religion practiced by hordes of brown and black people, the very idea of white Muslims who are not recent converts was a perplexing one. Everything about Caucasians, from their cultures, to their religion, to their history became a topic of conversation. In the midst of the slurs, braggadocios claims, and accusations of collaboration and betrayal, the Chechen war came up as a topic; a discussion that unfortunately led to the all too familiar territory of thinly veiled Islamophobia.

 

A brief history of the Chechen-Russian Conflict

Located in the North Caucasus, Chechnya (also called Ichkeria) is a “quadrilateral located in the north-eastern part of the Caucasus, demarcated by the Terek and Sunja rivers in the west and the north, the Andi range in the east which separates it from Dagestan, and the snow-covered twin range of the Caucasus in the south which separates it from Georgia” (Gammer, 2006:2). Rich in oil, natural gas, and minerals, this land is inhabited by the Nokhchi (meaning our people), better known under their Russian ethnonym (Chechen), and are closely related to the Ingush. Together, these two groups form the Vainakh who are the most ancient indigenous people of the region (Gammer, 2006:2).

Islam made its first inroads into the Caucasus in the 8th century. Two centuries later, it became the dominant religion in the southern coastal plain south of Derbent; an important economic centre located in present-day Dagestan. In the 11th and 12th century, most of the Darghin and Lakh people of central Dagestan converted massively to Islam. The arrival of the Nogai Horde, a Turkic tribe, in the region during the 14th century contributed greatly to the spread of Islam amongst the Cherkess, the Kabardins, and the Chechens. A century later, the Lakh of central Dagestan abandoned any remainder of their previous belief systems in order to practice Islam exclusively. As fervent Muslims, they dedicated themselves to the spread of their religion in Dagestan and the lands beyond; bringing Islam to the Chechens and the Kumiks. Over the coming centuries several ethnic groups such as the Avar, Chechen, Ingush, Adyghe, Cherkess, and Kabardins converted massively to Islam; making the Northern Caucasus a solid Muslim Bastion. Today, Islam is an important component of Vainakh culture as both the Chechen and the Ingush belong to the Hanafi School of Sunni Islam jurisprudence.

“In 1556, when Tsar Ivan the Terrible succeeded in conquering the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan and thus entering into the Caspian orbit, the North Caucasus region (…) became the object of a competition involving Muscovy, the Ottoman Empire, Iran, the Crimean Khanate, and other lesser powers” (Dunlop, 1998:4). Confronted to a stiff resistance from the native populations of the Caucasus, Tsarist Russia did not hesitate to unleash its might in successive military campaigns resulting in horrific acts of violence. In the 19th century, General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov began a military campaign to secure Russia’s hold over the Caucasus. In order to subdue the Chechens, who were fiercely opposed to the Russian invasion, Yermolov adopted a strategy of collective punishment in which Chechen villages where systematically targeted and destroyed. The campaign was of such cruelty and violence that many believe it contributed directly to the protracted and bloody Murid War (1829-1859). His campaign of expulsions, massacres, and widespread torture not only  “fuelled the Chechens’ hatred of Russians” but also inspired a profound desire “for freedom and their willingness to fight and die for it.” (Hertog, 2001: 29).

In more ways than one, the Russian invasion became the source of social and political turmoil in the Caucasus. Not only did the Chechens lose their sovereignty, they also found their cultural and religious identity endangered. Tsarist Russia’s anti-Islamic policies, its promotion of Russian culture at the detriment of their native traditions, and the spread of behaviours and attitudes anathema to their cultural and religious ethos created a “fertile ground for the ideas of the Naqshbandiya” (Hertog, 2001:29). It is from this Sufi order that key figures such as the famed Imam Shamil emerged during the Caucasian wars that lasted until 1856. He successfully united warring Caucasian tribes under a common Pan-Caucasian and Islamic banner; creating a united front against the Russian expansion into Chechnya and Dagestan. In 1864, after 142 years of a bitter struggle for freedom the Chechens finally surrendered to Tsarist Russia; but this was by no means the end of Chechen resistance (Dunlop, 1998:12). In 1877, they rose up in arms again defying Russian rule and rejecting their inclusion into the Tsarist Empire. This new rebellion ended with the slaughter of more than 60% of the Chechen population (Dunlop, 1998:32).

The February Revolution of 1917 was, at first, welcomed by the Chechens who saw in it a chance to break away from Tsarist rule and regain the control of their land. The Bolshevik slogans promoting freedom, equality, and the right for self-determination resonated with them. But soon after, they realised that the real politics of the Bolsheviks were far from what their slogans promised. Instead of the awaited freedom and independence, they were once again under the yoke of a regime alien to their traditions and values (Dunlop, 1998:16). This new Bolshevik rule promoted atheism and ignored completely the traditions, religion, and customs of the Chechen people. All of this contributed to the uprising against the Bolshevik rule in the 1920’s which lead to renewed hostilities between Moscow and the Chechens. Later on, as the totalitarian regime of Stalin gained in strength, the need to subdue and disarm the autonomous region of Chechnya became a priority.

In 1925, a campaign aimed at “political banditry” was launched in Chechnya, implementing a policy of mass arrests and repression. However, the darkest chapter in the tumultuous history of Chechnya remains without a doubt the deportation of the Chechen people and their kin the Ingush to central Asia in 1944 (Dunlop, 1998:17). Almost 500,000 Vainakh were forcefully put into cattle trucks and deported to Central Asia. The Stalinist regime tried to legitimize this treatment by levelling accusations of Nazis collaboration during World War II against the Chechens, although the Germans  never reached Chechnya during their incursion into Soviet territory. For Stalin, this was an opportunity to get rid of a rebellious nation permanently. “Their name was effaced, their cultural symbols were destroyed and history was rewritten as if the Chechens had never existed.” (Hertog, 2005:243). During the long and perilous journey to Central Asia, close to 78,000 died succumbing to the lack of food, sanitary facilities, and the cramped conditions on the trains (Lieven 1998: 319). The surviving population was further decimated when they arrived in Kazakhstan due to the harsh living conditions. According to official Soviet statistics, an estimated 25% of the exiled died within the first five years of their arrival (Evangelista 2002: 14). Between 30% to 50% of Chechens and Ingush are estimated to have perished during those years of exile, many dying due to the cold and the lack of food. 

In 1957, Krushchev who came to power after Stalin’s death ordered the return of the Vainakh from exile, thus restoring the Chechen republic and its people. However, this return was by no means the end of their suffering. They became once more the focus of Soviet propaganda since their resistance to atheism was perceived as a possible risk for renewed insurgency against the Soviet State. “A special ‘army of atheistic experts’ flooded the inhabitants of Grozny with antireligious lectures.” (Hertog, 2005:244). Many religious figures were hunted down and arrested while Soviet press and media routinely reiterated anti-Islamic narratives and attitudes; all in an effort to discourage the Chechen population from practicing Islam. However, this renewed hostility toward their religion only deepened the Chechens’ desire to maintain their distinctive religious and cultural ethos.

While these anti-Islamic campaigns succeeded in destroying “the material and structural basis” of Islamic leadership in Chechnya, they failed at eradicating Islamic beliefs and practice. “On the contrary, the deformalised but still vibrant faith of the Chechen people was absorbed into the informal networks of the brotherhoods.” (Hertog, 2005:244). The Sufi brotherhoods played an important role in preserving a common Chechen identity during the long years of exile. “As cultural and educational activity came to a halt, and as there were no newspapers or books in the native language, ‘what after all, could the people turn to, if not religion?’ (Henze, 1995: 24). The brotherhoods soon built extensive networks incorporated into the social structure of the Chechen people where now “each individual had not only family and clan loyalties, but also a Sufi brotherhood loyalty.” (Zelkina, 1993: 120). Faced with the openly hostile attitude of the Soviet regime toward Islam upon their returned from exile, the brotherhoods reprised their role as guardians of the Chechen identity by ensuring “the survival of Islamic belief and practice amidst constant atheistic militancy.” (Hertog, 2005: 244).

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, secession emerged as a major political issue in the Post-Cold War era. Many states from East Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus  either broke up into a multitude of states or became sovereign nations in their own right. Secessionist endeavours usually provoke mixed feelings and reactions. On the one hand, there is a natural inclination to support minority communities struggling for national liberation. On the other hand, there is a fear of the possible consequences of secession because too often conflict and war are a more typical outcome. In the Balkans, the collapse of Communism led to a genocidal war which effectively split Yugoslavia into 7 countries: Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Montenegro. For Russia, secession in the strategically important region of the Caucasus posed a particular challenge. In the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, there was civil war in Georgia, conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the republic of Chechnya was actively working on obtaining its independence. Moscow’s resolve to maintain its control over the region led to two terrible and bloody wars with the small  Chechen republic. 

Both, the first (1994-1996) and second Chechen War (1999-2009) can be described as the latest chapters in the Chechens’ ongoing conflict with Russia that started in the 16th century. The first war started in 1991 when Chechnya under the leadership of Djokhar Dudayev declared its sovereignty vis-a-vis Russia. Attempts by the Yeltsin regime to maintain the republic within the Federation were unsuccessful as Chechens rejected the proposed autonomy for complete sovereignty. Finally on December 1994, “the Russian Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior units entered Chechnya” and full-fledge war began (Dunlop, 1998:209). Referred to as the First Chechen war, this conflict lasted for three years and killed 100,000 Chechens out of a population of 1,000,000. It eventually ended with the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechen territory in 1996. However Chechen sovereignty was short lived. In 1999 President Putin declared the Chechen parliament illegal and ordered the invasion of the country by Russian troops. Chechens under the leadership of president Aslan Maskhadov took up arms to defend their country against this new Russian invasion. Although large scale military incursions ended officially in 2000, the conflict soon entered its insurgency phase opposing Russian forces and Chechen paramilitary to Chechen separatists.

Learning from their previous disastrous and costly incursions into Chechnya, the Russian authorities opted for a policy of “Chechenization” as a counterinsurgency strategy during the second war (Lyall; 2010: 3). By granting political power to ambitious Chechen officials susceptible of supporting the Kremlin’s desire to maintain Chechnya within Russia, they effectively created a split in the Chechen front. Akhmed Kadyrov, a mufti once loyal to the Chechen opposition, was nominated in 2003 as the head of the Chechen Republic by the Kremlin; only to be assassinated by the rebels seven months later. In 2007, Putin signed a decree nominating Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the late Akhmed Kadyrov, as the president of Chechnya. One of the main pillars of the Chechenization policy was the formation of combat units consisting of Chechens-only to conduct sweep operations.

Until early 2003, the counterinsurgency campaign was primarily ran by Russian units. However, this soon changed with the creation of joint patrols with Chechen police units. In an effort to further put a Chechen face to the counterinsurgency effort, Chechen-only Ministry of Defense units (Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad) were trained and equipped to assume sweep operations (Lyall; 2010: 3). The Kadyrovs also took advantage of this policy by creating their own paramilitary forces, known as the Kadyrovtsy, to participate in sweep operations targeting the rebels and their supporters. “In total, about 20,000 Chechens had joined Vostok, Zapad, or a Kadyrov affiliated organization by the end of 2005, when large-scale sweep operations were phased out as Ramzan Kadyrov consolidated power.” (Lyall; 2010: 3). Since his nomination as president, Kadyrov has maintained a climate of fear through selective disappearances, targeted assassination of regime critics, and the nighttime burning of suspected insurgents’ homes in a bid to pacify Chechnya.  

In October 31, 2007, “the then leader of the Chechen separatists, Dokku Umarov, announced the creation of the Caucasus Emirate—an Islamic theocracy based on Sharia rule, which spread across the territory of the autonomous North Caucasus territories of the Russian Federation” (Souleimanov, 2011:161). The insurgency which was previously confined to Chechnya eventually spread to five other republics (Dagestan, Ingushetia, the Nogay Steppe, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachay) with members loyal to the Caucasus Emirate becoming active throughout the region. While today the insurgency has entered its dormant phase, the Chechen desire for independence is far from extinguished. Both Chechens in the diaspora and at home still dream of one day seeing a free and sovereign Ichkeria.

Figure A: Map of the Caucasus

Picture1

 

Clash of Civilizations or colliding hegemonic projects

Both Samuel Huntington and S.N Eisenstadt propose mechanisms of conflict embedded within civilizational entities and triggered by precise dynamics. Each one suggests specific scenarios that are crucial to the understanding of conflict from a civilizational dimension. Huntington in his clash of civilization theory highlights colliding religious and cultural values as another trigger of his civilizational conflict mechanism. According to him, the general tendency throughout history has been to think in terms of two worlds. “People are always tempted to divide people into us and them, the in-group and the other, our civilization and those barbarians” (Huntington, 1996:32). Even scholars are constantly trying to categorize the world into two distinctive groups in their analysis, whether they phrase it as the Orient and the Occident, the North and the South, or the centre and the periphery (Huntington, 1996:32).

In the 14thcentury already, Muslim scholars divided the world into Dar al-Islam (the abode of peace) and Dar al-Harb (the abode of war). “Depending upon how the parts are defined, a two-part world picture may in some measure correspond with reality” (Huntington, 1996:32). Identities are drawn along the lines of these distinctions and specific groupings coalesce around a shared sense of cultural and religious values stemming from a sense of belonging. The cultural bifurcation at the heart of this great divide tends to create a polarization into two opposing camps “where the emphasis is less on differences in economic well-being and more on differences in underlying philosophy, values and ways of life” (Huntington, 1996:32).  Huntington reiterates that the world is far too complex to be simply “divided economically between North and South or culturally between East and West” (Huntington, 1996:33). He promotes instead a vision of a multicivilizational and multipolar world where contacts between different civilizations lead to conflicts.

The secession of the Chechen republic from the Russian federation and the ensuing war could be interpreted, from a Huntingtonian perspective, as the result of a confrontation between two sets of distinctive cultural and religious values. For the Chechens, promoting the rebirth of Chechen-Muslim values necessitated a free and sovereign territory where this project could blossom. However, for the proponents of a unified Russia this was seen as a rejection of the Slav and Orthodox values which constitute the core of Russian identity. As the conflict intensified so did the confrontation between these opposing values. The resurgence of a Chechen culture and an increasingly vibrant Islamic revival led to the rebirth of a Chechen national identity. Breaking away from Russia was not only politically motivated but was also an attempt to consolidate this nascent sense of nationhood. The turmoil of the post Soviet Union climate provided them with an opportunity to reclaim their territory. By changing the name of their country from the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, they were in fact reiterating their distinctive cultural, historical, and religious identity. The secession of Chechnya from the greater Russian Federation was not merely a political act but rather an attempt to create the necessary climate for a cultural rebirth of the Chechen nation.

Conflicts appearing in regions where contacts between civilizational entities occur are called fault line wars by Huntington. These conflicts can occur between states, between non-governmental groups, or between states and non-governmental groups. However, whether these conflicts involve clans, tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, or nations their rational “is always rooted in the identities of people” (Huntington, 1996:252). Fault lines wars can manifest themselves as a struggle for the control of people or the control of territory. “The goal of at least one of the participants is to conquer territory and free it of other people by expelling them, killing them, or doing both, that is, by ethnic cleansing” (Huntington, 1996:252). This explains the extremely violent nature of such confrontations leading often to the usage of indiscriminate massacres, rape, terrorism, and torture. “The territory at stake often is for one or both sides a highly charged symbol of their history and identity, sacred land to which they have an inviolable right: the West Bank, Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, the Drina Valley or Kosovo” (Huntington, 1996:252). Fault line wars can be notoriously instable and can “flame up into massive violence and then sputter down into low intensity warfare or sullen hostility only to fame up once again” (Huntington, 1996:253).

The Chechen struggle for sovereignty resonated with many other ethnic groups living in the Caucasus and facing the same Russian hegemony. From a Huntingtonian perspective, one could say that the expansion of the conflict outside of Chechnya’s borders is due to  the rise of a civilization consciousness built around the concept of Caucasian and Muslim identity. The struggle is no longer just one for Chechen freedom but rather one for a broader Caucasian rebirth. The implication in the insurgency of Kin countries such as Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachay as well as a very active Chechen Diaspora has not only created a broader Caucasian and Muslim solidarity, but has also intensified the conflict. In that context, one can no longer simply speak of a Chechen war but rather a conflict opposing a core Slavic/Orthodox state (Russia) to weaker peripheral Muslim republics located in the Caucasus (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, etc…)

A rather different perspective of civilizations and their influence in world politics was elaborated by S.N Eisenstadt. Instead of  the concept of civilizational clash promoted by Huntington, he elaborated on the concept of axial civilizations. These civilizational entities not only attempt to reconstruct the world in accordance to their ontological and cosmological vision but they also express a certain proclivity toward expansion. They mobilize pre-existing political ideologies, religious impulses, and to some extent economic structures in order to nourish this endeavour. They adopt a “distinctive ideological and reflexive mode of expansion with potentially strong semi-missionary orientations” (Eisenstadt 2003:41). This pattern of expansion creates a better awareness of civilizational frameworks encompassing different societies made up of a multitude of political and ethnic groups. According to Eisenstadt’s theory it is not so much civilizations that are at odds but rather hegemonic projects embedded in civilizational frameworks.

 

Civilizational conflict mechanism according to Eisenstadt:

Components of civilizational conflict              Triggers in the Chechen conflict
Ontological/cosmological vision

 

·      Basic ideological premises (the Dominion of Mother Russia vs. Ichkeria/free Chechnya)

 

·      Core Symbols (The Russian Bear vs. The Chechen  Lone Wolf)

 

·      Construction of collective identities

 

Distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion            (3 key periods)

 

1)Tsarist Russia vs. Ottoman Empire

 

2) USSR vs. Chechnya

 

3) Russian Federation vs. the Caucasus Emirate

 

Internal civilizational dynamics ·      Religious, ideological, political and economic impulses

 

·      Center vs. Periphery (Russian Federation vs. Peripheral republics)

 

The development and institutionalization of specific ontological and cosmological visions and new modes of consciousness within Axial civilizations is connected very closely to the emergence of a “new social element, of a new type of elite, of carriers of models of cultural and social order” (Eisenstadt, 2003:38). The tendency to reconstruct the world according to specific symbolic, ideological and institutional precepts, and to partake in continual expansion has been a common feature of Axial civilizations. The multitude of existent civilizations and their diversity is the work of different patterns through which these elements are being implemented. All these civilizations try to “reconstruct the world in their own mode, according to basic premises, and either to absorb the others or consciously to segregate itself from them” (Eisenstadt, 2003:42). Two elements are crucial in the shaping of the different modes of institutionalization and civilizational expansion. “One such set consists of variations of differences in the basic cultural orientations. The other is the concrete structure of the social arenas in which these institutional tendencies can be played out” (Eisenstadt, 2003:43).

In the case of the Chechen conflict, there are two distinctive ontological and cosmological visions at odds. A vision of a unified Russia is colliding with that of a free and sovereign Ichkeria (Chechnya). During this conflict, symbolic, ideological and institutional precepts have been utilized in order to justify the ongoing hostilities. For the proponents of the Federation, the dominion of Mother Russia already weakened by the crumbling of the Soviet Union needs to be protected from further balkanization. The integrity of the territory must be preserved in order to safeguard the status and the weight of Russia in the international arena. The military incursions in the Chechen territory were framed as a legitimate attempt to protect the nation from peril, and the victory of the Russian army as the proof of the strength of “the Russian bear” representing the Russian strength of character.

On the other hand, the proponents of secession in Chechnya framed their struggle around the question of national freedom. Chechnya, they claimed was never a willing member of the Federation but rather an occupied territory demanding to be released. For them, the conflict was not so much one of self-determination as much as an attempt to put an end to Russian colonialism. Ichkeria was a sovereign nation before the Russian penetration into the Caucasus and will be once again free from oppression. Largely surpassed by the Russian military in terms of resources, the Chechen victory during the first war against a vastly superior military machine was framed as the victory of the “lone wolf against the Russian bear”. This image evokes a struggle similar to that of David vs. Goliath, and in doing so reiterates the perseverance and the courage of Chechens against an enemy far superior to them in numbers and in resources. The continuation of the conflict has in fact institutionalized the ontological and cosmological visions supporting the political agendas of both sides while impacting on the construction of collective identities.

In order to reconstruct a social order according to any given ontological and cosmological vision, it is crucial to develop a strong “tendency to define certain collectivities and institutional arenas as most appropriate for the implementation of their respective transcendental visions” (Eisenstadt, 2003:38). This tendency creates new types of collectivities and groups harboring a special meaning derived from those distinctive transcendental visions. These groups help to institutionalize a “new type of intersocietal and intercivilizational world history” which justifies the proclivity of civilizations for expansion (Eisenstadt, 2003:41). Ideological, religious, as well as political and economic impulses are then mobilized in order to trigger distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion. These expansions could be geographical in nature, religious or cultural; however, it is important to reiterate that these processes are not necessarily linked. Depending on the realities at hand, the civilizational frameworks of these expansions can change as different internal civilizational dynamics come into play.

The Caucasus, as the crossroad between different ethnic, religious, and political entities has been the theatre of many expansionist endeavours. There are key moments in the history of the region which reflect distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion. In the eighteenth century, the Caucasus became the frontline of a war opposing Tsarist Russia to the Ottoman Empire. Since neither of these empires are indigenous to the region, they both mobilized different impulses in order to justify their expansion, while trying to render their rival’s position illegitimate. While the Ottoman Empire utilized religion in order to establish alliances with local ethnic groups sharing the same religious beliefs, Tsarist Russia utilized instead cultural arguments pertaining to the superiority of Russians to the barbarians and savages of the Caucasus. During the twentieth century, the USSR utilized political and ideological arguments to justify their presence in the region. The Chechens on the other hand framed their struggle around the question of cultural identity and national autonomy.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Gammer, Moshe. (2006). The Lone Wolf and the Bear. Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule. London: Hurst and Company.
  2. Huntington, Samuel.P (1996). The Clash of Civilizations. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  3. Huntington, S.P. 1993b. ‘If Not Civilizations, What? Paradigms of the Post-Cold War.’ Foreign Affairs 72(5): 186–94.
  4. Eisenstadt, S.N. (2003). Comparative civilizations and multiple modernities (volume 1). Boston: Library of Congress.
  5. Souleimanov, Emil. (2011). The Caucasus Emirate: Genealogy of an Islamist Insurgency. Middle East Policy 18 (4).155-168.
  6. Lyall, Jason. (2010). Are Coethnics More Effective Counterinsurgents? Evidence from the Second Chechen War, American Political Science Review, 104(1), 1-20.
  7. Henze, P. B. (1995) Islam in the North Caucasus: The Example of Chechnya (Santa Monica, RAND).

  8. Evangelista, M. (2002). The Chechen wars: Will Russia go the way of the Soviet Union? Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

  9. Hertog, K. (2005). A Self-fulfilling Prophecy: The Seeds of Islamic Radicalisation in Chechnya, Religion, State and Society, 33(3), 239-252.

  10. Lieven, Anatol. 1998. Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  11. Dunlop, John B. 1998. Russia confronts Chechnya: Roots of a separatist conflict. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  12. Hertog, K. (2001) The Role of Religion in the Conflict in Chechnya and Daghestan: Part of the Problem—Part of the Solution? (unpublished MA thesis, Bradford University).

     

     

     

 

Star Crossed: Part Four

Star Crossed: Part Four

Muslim Futurism

The Master of the Xinfiniin accompanied by the host, the overseer, and his conscripts approached the rendezvous point. He was increasingly uneasy about this meeting but dared not share his trepidations with anyone. He kept his face as impassive as possible and used his biofeedback abilities to regulate his vital signs and skin temperature in order to project an air of calm. His confident walk betrayed nothing of his desire to launch into a full sprint in the opposite direction, and put as much distance as possible between his ship and this place. The ten conscripts chosen by the overseer to ensure their safety kept a watchful eye as they marched in a tight triangle formation, surrounding the Master and the host, confining them both to the centre. These men’s lives were declared forfeit the moment they enlisted as conscripts to purge their sentences. In the Xininit consortium, serving as…

View original post 1,602 more words

Should A Muslim Perspective Matter In Science Fiction?

Should A Muslim Perspective Matter In Science Fiction?

Muslim Futurism

Article originally published by Islamscifi.com

Storytelling has always been an integral part of human traditions. Every story serves as a medium to convey ideas, pass on values and norms, or invite audiences to ponder and reflect. Some of the greatest stories ever told were intended to be a reflection on the world we live in. Both Huxley’s Brave New World, and Hugo’s Les Miserables—although belonging to wildly different genres—are perfect examples of stories examining the human condition with perspicacity and creativity. Science Fiction particularly has produced over the decades stories that allow an incredible level of range and variety, while taking place in an ever shifting and evolving context. This fluidity in storytelling is what makes this genre an interesting vehicle for tackling complex and challenging ideas.

While Muslims are often consumers of science fiction, their impact as producers of new sci-fi material is unfortunately negligible. However, one…

View original post 1,137 more words

From Troublesome Thirties To Frenetic Forties

From Troublesome Thirties To Frenetic Forties

I initially planned on writing a long-winded post about this topic, with scholarly references to drive my point home. But, after careful consideration I decided to approach this more as a personal reflection than a sociological analysis; which believe me is not easy for me. I tend to go on long tangents and find myself knee-deep in sociological jargon quite often. When I started my blog, I was in my thirties and trying to navigate the turbulent waters one enters when we officially leave behind the last remnants of our youth, also  known as the twenties. But, life has a way of constantly keeping us on our toes, and just when I thought I was getting the hang of these troublesome thirties, here comes the next chapter of my life. If life is akin to a novel, then I think it is safe to say each decade is pretty much a whole new chapter, with recurrent themes and characters from previous chapters, but also a whole new set of challenges and shifting priorities.

There is a certain optimism often seen as the hallmark of youth which corresponds to a certain stage of one’s life. The twenties are seen as the age of possibilities; a time for self-discovery and boldness where you essentially feel the better part of your life is ahead of you. Every aspect of society by and large caters to the needs and interests of the young: every TV show, movies, social media, the fashion industry, most apps, etc…This reinforces the idea that youth holds a social currency that dwindles with aging. When one enters the thirties, you are expected to have your career well in hand, and be on your way to creating your family (if you haven’t already). If you have the misfortune of not making headways in your career, buying a home, and endeavouring to have a healthy 401k, you are basically seen as someone who is failing at being an adult (or just really failing at life in general). Unfortunately, even Muslims fall prey to this narrative.

Some of the greatest trepidations women experience in their thirties are related to the subject of motherhood. Society repeatedly tells you it is now or never if you wish to have kids. Of course anxiety and existential crisis ensue when you see the forties looming in the distance and you still haven’t found a husband. Every passing stroller and lively baby shower reminds you that you are essentially wasting your peak fertility years. If the thirties make you keenly aware of the passage of time and the increasingly deafening ticking of your biological clock, the forties bring one’s mortality to the forefront.

By the time you are in your late thirties to early forties, you’re bound to have experienced loss. Whether it is losing a parent, other family members, your friends, or your acquaintances, death becomes a lot more palpable. There is also the fact that you are statistically more at risk for just about any disease. Where your doctor used to tell you not to fret when you rushed to his/her office after making the mistake of googling some innocuous symptoms you were experiencing, in your forties they are more likely to send you for a test. Age is a risk factor for just about anything: from Cancer to neurological illnesses. This, of course, makes you think of your mortality a lot more. Every mole, spot, lump, and twitch suddenly becomes a potential source of concern. While having a good diet and exercising daily help tremendously in one’s overall well-being, it is nonetheless a sad reality that you start noticing a stark difference in your body from when you were younger. The wear and tear start taking their toll; acid reflux, joint pain, thyroid issues are all benign, but they nonetheless remind you of your aging. Just looking at tomato sauce gives me heartburn these days, and I’m pretty sure my knees are fomenting some sort of rebellion against me. You can’t help but worry for those who find themselves in your care. Wondering what will become of your aging parents or your small children in the event of your demise will keep you awake at night, anxiously thinking of an alternative that won’t leave them destitute and desperate.

You realize that the days of your youth are now really behind you. From now on what you have to look forward to are the indignities of aging. Where you once saw your future brimming with infinite possibilities, eccentric dreams, and time seemed everlasting; your future is now one that you contemplate with apprehension. You know that your end is closer than it’s ever been before. Looking back at your life is fraught with the regrets of past decisions, the what ifs of the roads never travelled, and the sadness of having to let go of unfulfilled aspirations. From the moment of our birth to our death, our lives are essentially the byproduct of a series of decisions we make; from the most inconsequential to the most crucial. Aging is not for the faint of heart folks, but in many ways it is also the only antidote to the hubris of youth. Which might explain why societies obsessed with youthfulness tend to fear it, and constantly try to battle and delay it.

So, what does all of this mean for me? Is Geeky Muslimah on her way to a retirement home? Not quite. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge my trepidations about aging. What do you do when your actual life in no way resembles what you dreamed of? Do you embrace the new possibilities that present themselves, no matter how far from your previous ambitions? Do you let go of the past or do you redouble your efforts to achieve those dreams the younger version of you held so dear? I honestly wish there was some sort of pause button that you could just hit to stop time and give yourself the opportunity to think. But time waits for no one, and we are all caught in its web. The very universe we live in will one day come to an end. Despite all of its marvels that so often defy human comprehension and it’s perpetual expansion, it will fail to elude the deadly grasp of time.

It is difficult to put into words the bittersweet reality of human existence. We are all lucky to have been given the chance to experience it first hand: the good, the bad, and everything else in between. Every moment of joy, every laughter shared with friends, every instance where love prevailed in our lives, every melody that lingers in our hearts, every kindness ever bestowed upon us, every look of unconditional love that shines in our parents’ eyes, every miracles big or small we get to witness, all of it remind us that we are indeed blessed to be alive. Maybe that is what makes our mortality so daunting. Our very existence is nothing short of a miracle. Of the 200 billion planets that exist in our galaxy alone, life thrived on our little blue dot against all odds. When we look at the heavens, are we not reminded of our solitude in this vast universe, and yet humbled by the  closeness we feel toward our creator?

Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem

  1. Most Gracious!
  2. It is He Who has taught the Qur’an.
  3. He has created man:
  4. He has taught him speech (and intelligence).
  5. The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed;
  6. And the herbs (or stars) and the trees – both (alike) bow in adoration.
  7. And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice),
  8. In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance.
  9. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance.
  10. It is He Who has spread out the earth for (His) creatures:
  11. Therein is fruit and date-palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates);
  12. Also corn, with (its) leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-smelling plants.
  13. Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?

(Surah Ar-Rahman/ The Beneficent)

Remembering that this life is but one leg of our greater journey is the only way of combatting the fears conjured up by thoughts of the inescapable finality that awaits us all. In Islam, death is but a transition. We are after all souls living in exile and waiting to return home.  But this world of ours is so very human and in its own way wondrous, even when it fails to live up to our expectations, that the idea of leaving behind the only existence we know imbues us with dread. Several lifetimes would probably not suffice for us to get our fill of the human experience. We want to live long and happy lives. We want to fall in love and be loved. We want to see our progeny rise higher and achieve so much more than we ever dreamed of. We want it all even when it is not written for us; and that is very human indeed.

So, I’ll end this reflection by saying that the very human woman I am will try to find solace in remembering that there is wisdom in accepting the destiny Allah ‘aza wajal prescribed for me; even when it doesn’t always jive with all the dreams and hopes I once had. I shall endeavour to remind myself that what a believer should strive for is to be reunited in the hereafter with not only loved ones, but also all the best of our Ummah: from the Sahabas to our beloved Prophet (saw). I shall endeavour to remember that what awaits us beyond the veil of death is, God willing, everlasting contentment; and aging is part of the journey that leads us there.

 

“We shall certainly test you by afflicting you with fear, hunger, loss of properties and lives and fruits. Give glad tidings, then, to those who remain patient; those who when any affliction smites them, they say: “Verily, we belong to Allah, and it is to Him that we are destined to return.Upon them will be the blessings and mercy of their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 155-157)