Past-time Paradise

by Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim

They've been spending most their lives
Living in a pastime paradise
They've been wasting most their time
Glorifying days long gone behind
They've been wasting most their days
In remembrance of ignorance oldest praise………..stevie wonder

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What is the tendency among many of us to try and re-create a society today, like the one that existed some 1400 yrs ago during the lifetime of our Beloved Teacher, Guide and Prophet (pboh) Muhammad ibn Abdullah ?  This is a fool's undertaking, an impossible task. There is nothing that we can do to bring back to life the historical circumstances of that time period. It is a by-gone era. We can sit around all day and discuss the little we know of that time period, from the various sources both religious and historical and still not scratch the surface of what life was really like back then, we are left with only a brief and romanticized hologram viewed through the imagination of historians and poets. 

However, being familiar with the classical source materials, the body of work we call the ‘hadiths’ and other various siras or histories is important in so much as they can help provide a ‘direction’ or at least a historical reference about the way a people were individually and communally impacted by Islam then.

How we approach our Islam individually and collectively will be totally different than that of our religious predecessors because our time is now, not then. The historical and material circumstances are different. The proverbial ‘tooth-paste’ of 1400 yrs ago is out of the tube. There’s no putting it back.  What we are left with is the ‘wisdom’ that the ancients used to negotiate those uncertain times. We can draw lessons about courage and over-coming seemingly insurmountable odds from them but certainly not methodology. And the lessons we take will be seen and interpreted differently by the various cultural lenses through which they are viewed.  Islam is not a monolith.

It is in the rich heritage of Islam to have created one of the most advanced cultures on the Iberian Peninsula known for its technological superiority in medicine, philosophy, economics, science and mathematics and continued to maintain that position with generations of administrators, clerks, judges, engineers, scribes, tradesmen and lawyers for over 800 years. However all of this advancement was called into question by the Muslim religious authorities, the sheikhs of Islam, that wanted to return to the 'way it was', and the acquiescence by the rulers to these religious zealots was a prime reason that led to the eventual downfall and subjugation of the Muslim world.*  There are many lessons in our history that we should draw from. 

 There are many ways to be Muslim.  There are many cultural interpretations and representations of this wonderful way of life that loves humanity and is committed to social justice and diversity and we should join in the ranks of those who are pushing back against tyranny and abuse. We must engage the concept of freedom and recognize that it is an ongoing struggle towards taking personal and communal responsibility. 

                       We must seek the moral high ground, join with others and expose injustice

                      We must seek the moral high ground, join with others and expose injustice

I look to the future of Islam, but all roads to that future are patrolled by legions of men that are armed only with the ‘traditions of the past’.   These men wish to construct a society from the ruins of ancient worm-eaten graves, how silly is this?  Yet this idea is passed off as 'religiosity' and something to be considered seriously, but only by the unimaginative self appointed representatives of God on earth, in the same way it was previously activated in undermining the Muslim civilization we called the  Golden Age of Spain !

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*Decline of Muslim Spain   :  

Nizamiyah colleges were the Ivy League colleges of the 12th century. Some scholars at the time noted the tendency of students to leave their traditional schools to study religion at the colleges. Some Sunni clerics also complained that many had adopted the Shafii school as their religious affiliation. Scholars graduating from the colleges were armed with argumentative skills to battle the Batiniyya (validating only the 'literal' interpretation of the Qur'an,  downplaying the 'spirit' of revelation)  whenever they found them. Graduates were given priority in key government jobs, namely in the judiciary, hisbah (Sharia enforcement or police) and istifta (jurisprudence).

It was Nizamiyah colleges, which operated for over four centuries, together with the financial and political backing of the powerful Seljuq dynasty that directed Muslim minds towards only religious practices and away from secular advancements. What suffered were the disciplines of agriculture, astronomy, architecture, and medicine.

     What is not in dispute is that the colleges stifled scientific innovation by focusing only on religious studies to achieve a political end. The colleges singularly succeeded in that task, with Sunni clerics often praising them for their role in restraining the influence of Batiniyya (Ismaili or non-literalist concepts) and in the dominance of Sunni Islam thereby  reducing challenges to its authority.  However, the result was that the Muslim world began to prostrate itself to the scientific and technological advancements of the West and thereby lost it's dominance in the world.