Friday, December 09, 2005
  moderation in death
So we didn't have a snowday afterall. But we managed to have a blast anyway. To see our winter fun album, click here

After sledding, sipping, baking, decorating, and snarfing snow icecream, we headed off to Qur'an group. Today's uplifting topic... death and the remembrance of death. Now this is not as much of a downer as one might surmise... think Tuesdays with Morrie, a living record of a man's death and a surprisingly uplifting book.

The impetus of the discussion was a quote from Al-Ghazali's Remembrance of Death the gist of which was you should remember death often, and think upon it.

Sounds rather gruesome, but the point was that remembering that you can't take it with you, and that status, wealth, career, etc will seem rather unimportant when you're confronted with your deeds -- good and bad as weighed by Allah -- in the hereafter.

The discussion was wideranging, from why do children die (I always think of the story of Khidr when confronted with this situation (see below) Since no one, not even the Prophet, is exempt from making errors/sinning, an early demise may have to do with the Mercy of Allah rather than His wrath at whatever the innocent child has done) to how can thinking about death help us sort out our true priorities. (why are you a doctor, engineer, lawyer, writer -- to make a lot of money? (ok, not if you're a writer) so people will be impressed with you? to help people?)

The thought that struck me was that one should also consider death in moderation. Moderation is one of the things that attracted me about Islam. Muslims should not be profligate, but neither should they be ascetics. Being wealthy, and enjoying the blessings of the Lord are not sins in Islam, but at the same time, one should use one's wealth to benefit society and less well off individuals. We eschew sexual relations outside of marriage, but within marriage they are an act of worship, and there is no monasticism in Islam, nor is divorce forbidden. We pray and fast, but not constantly. Everything in balance.

So too our view of the world in light of death should be balanced. Considering our own deaths can help us achieve a healthy distance from worldly problems. Spats with one's spouse seem trivial, slights from a co-worker are less important, whether you get that big screen tv or a slightly smaller version doesn't really make much difference, when you really think about the ways of the universe. The connections we have with people, the joy we bring into their lives, the happiness and justice we help generate -- these are important things, who wins the game this Sunday... well... need I say more?

At the same time, we should not let this contemplation of death make us disdainful of the world. Islam doesn't ask us to ignore Earth, or to despise our lives. Rather, it asks us to engage with it, to be caretakers and guardians, to be bastions of virtue who stand up for the downtrodden and oppressed. In particular, contemplation of the hereafter should not make us devalue the world, and other human beings so completely, that we consider their lives worthless, expendable. Allah loves the world It has fashioned, and tells us in the Qur'an that killing a single soul wrongfully is like killing the entirety of mankind. How then are we to take lightly the life that has been given to us and to others?

Unfortunately, we are living in a day and age where many people lack this sense of balance (Muslims and non-Muslims). Where what you call God and how you perform your prayers is a matter for slaughter. Where oil wealth is more important than human lives. Where a cheap sneaker is more important than inhumane working conditions. I suspect we are not going to see an end to this inequilibrium anytime soon, but one can hope, and pray.

*The story of Khidr is a longish tale in which Moses seeks out Khidr who is known to be wise and to receive knowledge from God. Moses wishes to learn from Khidr. Khidr reluctantly allows Moses to follow along, although he extracts a promise that Moses should not question his actions. Well the first thing he does, as they walk along the seashore is stave in the boat of some fishermen. The next thing, he kills a young boy. Then, they enter a town, and seek lodgings at various homes. Only the poorest family has the kindness to welcome them in. In the morning, Khidr pulls down a wall in the back of the house before they depart. Moses is, naturally, outraged at Khidr's behavior, and each time he does something that appears to be completely evil, he asks Khidr how can he do such a thing. At last Khidr is fed up with Moses's questions, and says Moses must go his own way, but he will explain why he did what he did. Allah had showed him that there was a navy fleet sailing the morning before, conscripting ships for their war. The fishermen, busy on shore repairing their boat, were spared being drafted into warfare, losing the livelihood their families depended upon. The boy, Allah had shown him, would grow up to give his parents much grief and to wreak havoc on the world, so Allah had shown mercy upon his soul and taken him before he could do such things. As for the wall, beneath it lay a treasure that had belonged to the ancestors of the family, but which had been forgotten about, and when they repaired the wall, they would find it.

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Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.

What I'm reading now

Cane River
An interesting exploration of the gradual whiting of a family through slavery to modern days.

To see an archive of all the books I've read (well the ones I've read and review since I started the blog) with comments, please click here

Causes Worth Supporting

This is just a short list -- a few of my favorites.

English Language Islamic Fiction. We need more of it. Lots more.
Pay a Teacher's Salary in Afghanistan. The Hunger site actually has a lot of worthwhile programs. You can find them all here .
Muslims for Progressive Values. My organization. We can always use donations, of time or money!
Human Rights Campaign for the glbt community
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The ACLU I'm a card carrying member. Hope you'll become one too. The organization that has done the most, as far as I can tell, to pull the countries progressive side together.
Network of Spiritual Progressives. Working to reclaim religion and morality for the religious left.

Blogs Worth Reading

Wanda Campbell also known as Nochipa A very gifted poet and a gentle, compassionate soul. Nochipa and I are on the same page on sooooo many things
Writeous Sister Aminah Hernandez, she's got some excellent latino pieces and always has good writing info on her blog.
Sister Scorpion aka Leila Montour - Leila is a fount of energy, quirky humor, and bad attitude. She's also a talented poet.
Muhajabah Very interesting commentary here. I don't always agree with her, but her pieces are always thought-provoking.
Georgie Dowdell Georgie is a great writer and a good friend.
Louise Marley Another great writer. I think Louise is one of the best sf writers exploring faith themes.
Ink in My Coffee Devon Ellington (who has numerous aliases) who is also the editor of Circadian Poems. A truly inspiring woman with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Ethnically Incorrect With a name like that, isn't a given I'm going to enjoy this writer?
Freedom from the Mundane Colin Galbraith, another excellent writer, from Scotland.
The Scruffy Dog Review This is a new e-zine with an ecclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fic, some really enjoyable pieces here.
Ramblings of a Suburban Soccer Mom Lara, another gentle soul, very thoughtful.
Circadian Poems A journal of poetry, new stuff up all the time.
Ye Olde Inkwell Michelle writes romance and is one of my writing buddies.
Muhammad Michael Knight The original punk Muslim writer. Like him or love him, Mike is always coming up with the unexpected.

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