The Qur’an is a book of continuing revelation, it is a very personal book. It is a book that is the source of all blessings, and the source of all guidance. It is a book that enables us with the grace, blessings, and beauty of the divine, but only if we open our hearts and minds.
One of the most troubling aspects of human beings is that we are so susceptible to social construction. We are so susceptible to influence by the environment that surrounds us, so much so that the Qur’an repeatedly warns us of our susceptibility to herd mentality. We understand things at the pace society sets for us, and in doing so, we miss the opportunity of listening carefully to the revelation of the Qur’an, the revelation that never ends. The Qur’an, God's speech that speaks to us both collectively and individually, that speaks both to the world of the seen, and the world of the unseen.
“The Lord of heavens and the earth! Nothing dwells on this earth, nothing dwells within, and nothing dwells in the heavens above without God's absolute knowledge. Nothing dwells on this earth, and nothing dwells within, and nothing dwells in the heavens above that is beyond God's control. God, the First (Al Awwal) and the Last (Al Akhir)! God, The Manifest (Al Zahir) and The Concealed (Al Batin)! God, who is with you wherever you go.”
Just these words from Surah al Hadid could completely transform your reality, your very being, your consciousness. These words alone could elevate your soul and put you in touch with everything around you when you realize that your life is the necessary component of existence itself, as existence lives through you.
These are words not to be just absorbed intellectually, but to be felt with every fiber of the being. The very heavens and earth are a part of the way that God manifests. If you wish to experience the Divine, then experience the Divine through the Divine's handiwork. It is no different from not being able to see electricity. You see what electricity does, and so you feel that you have an intimate familiarity with electricity, just by the results of your experiences with it. If there is light, you know electricity is present. But if there is darkness, you know that electricity is absent.
What does it mean for a Muslim to actually understand and internalize the very concept that God is the First and the Last? God is the First, outside human logic, and the last, outside human logic, because eternity itself is outside human logic. God is Al Zahir – manifest and present in every matter that you deal with. God is present in the smallest, most minute things, but also in the most grand things. But also, God is Al Batin - in every evolving act, even though you cannot see God with your own eyes. The knowledge that God is with you wherever you go has the power to transform a human being thoroughly and completely, from a human being who consistently lives in the company of their own ego, to a human being who divorces their ego and embraces the one true overwhelming reality and presence, God.
What does it mean to live having divorced your ego? It means you live a purposeful life. It means that you do not look at where everyone else is in the race because, in your mind, there is no race, only a journey to God. Others can run as fast as they want or walk as slow as they want. You do not look at those who are behind you, and you do not look at those who are ahead of you because you simply do not care. You are not in a race; you are solely on a journey to God.
What does it mean to live having divorced your ego to embrace The First, The Last, The Manifest and The Concealed? It means that you live knowing fully well that as much mercy and kindness you extend to any of God's creation, God, in turn, will extend mercy, forgiveness, and kindness to you. It means that you do good, while you do not expect good back from others, because it does not matter. When you divorce your own ego, and you embrace The First, The Last, The Manifest and The Concealed, you do not do good for a beast in the forest and then wonder, "Why does the beast not accompany me and protect me?" You do good for a beast in the forest and say, "My reward is with God." Your relationship to human beings is exactly that type of kindness. You do what is good, what is kind, what is generous, and do not think, "What do I get in return from them?" because you do not want anything back from them. What you want is for The First, The Last, The Manifest and The Concealed to be ever closer to you. Because God said, "If you want to know my mercy and compassion, extend it to my creation."
What does it mean to divorce your ego? It means that with every word you learn, you ask yourself, "How does it bring me closer to God?" How does it allow me to worship God? How does it allow me to serve God?" If you learn words that bring you closer to the hearts of human beings but not necessarily to God, you lose interest. If you learn words that impress human beings but do not necessarily impress God, you become bored. But that is not just the case with words you learn, but even the words you speak.
Before saying anything at any time, know that God is with you. Know that God is closer to you than your jugular vein. Ask the question, "God, you will hear before anyone else. You know what is inside my heart without me even articulating it into words. I do not know how other people will hear me. I do not know how other people understand me. They may or may not understand. They may or may not hear. It does not matter, because the only one who is truly my audience is You. You are the true audience. If what I have to say pleases You, I will say it. If what I have to say alienates me from You, then I will swallow my words because you are The First, The Last, The Manifest and The Concealed."
Simple words can transform your entire existence, simple words can make you understand that there is no nature. They are merely manifestations of the divine. You want to see God? Look in the mirror. Step outside and see the birds, the trees, and the leaves. Feel the wind. Listen very carefully, and with an open heart, to the Qur’an. You can hear them supplicate the name of your Lord.
If you listen very carefully, you will realize that we, human beings, are the only creatures who can say something other than supplications to the Lord. If you listen very carefully, you will realize that this entire creation only knows one form of speech, and that is supplicating the name of their Lord. You will know precisely why it is a crime to transgress upon living creatures that share this world with us beyond our basic needs, because we can only fulfill these needs in the name of God, and anything beyond our needs is transgression. When we offend against a whale, we offend a being that supplicates the Lord. If we transgress upon anything, even the lonely tree in the desert or the most insignificant creature crawling on the ground, we supplicate against a being that supplicates the name of the Lord.
This book, the Qur’an, is a continuing revelation. This book brings you out of darkness into the light of divinity. This is the sole purpose of this book. This book is not about laws. This book is not about regulations. This book is about illumination, enlightenment and light upon light.
It is impossible to learn to hear the voice of God within us. If we drown out this divine voice with all the chatter and noise that we generate, that keeps us distracted from anything genuine in our lives, it is impossible to hear this voice. If you fill your life with gossip, with jealousy, with narratives of victimization, with comparisons between yourself and others, it is impossible to hear the voice of your Lord. If you do not pay attention, simply start paying attention.
Recently in France, a woman wearing hijab accompanied her child on a field trip in which they visited the local government. The woman was sitting next to her child when officials in the governmental building noticed her, and started screaming at her that she cannot be in a state building with her hijab on. Of course, the poor child, when he saw his mother being yelled at and ordered to exit the building, freaked out. There is a photograph on the net of that poor woman holding onto her terrified child as these lawmakers were yelling at her.
Of course, you can imagine what would have happened if that same image involved a Christian woman holding on to her terrified child in any Muslim country, or if the same event involved a Jewish woman in a European country. Remarkably, while there were some moral voices in France that said, "This is wrong. We should not terrorize children just because their mother wears the hijab," France is discussing passing yet another Islamophobic law. In France, it is already the case that you cannot wear a hijab in public school. Nor can you hold a state job and wear the hijab. But the new law that is being discussed would make it illegal for a woman wearing hijab to accompany her minor child out in public. It is already illegal to have a minor wear the hijab. But the proposal, as I understand it, is that if a mother is wearing the hijab and walking her child to school, she can be stopped by the police, fined and prosecuted.
It is remarkable that so many countries are, once again, litigating an issue that is, to the very core, the business of Muslim women. Whether to wear the hijab or not to wear the hijab is something that is plainly in the jurisdiction of Muslim women. France is not an exception. The niqab has already been outlawed in so many countries. But now, it is a trend to restrict the hijab in not only an increasing number of European countries, but even in some Muslim countries.
The secular governments in Muslim countries, as part of the war against political Islam, have been waging a war against hijabs. The sad reality is that, once again, it is not about liberating Muslim women. It is not about liberty, civil rights, or human rights for Muslim women. It is a battle about what many opponents of Islam believe is the dignity of Islam being fought on the bodies of Muslim women.
There is a very long history of colonialism being justified in the name of liberating Muslim women. Whether Muslims need saving or not in the white man's intellectual framework, the white man's burden was always about Muslim women. But the irony is that, at the same time that the white man claimed to colonize Muslim countries to liberate Muslim women, the white man fetishized Muslim women to the extreme, to the point that, in the heart of colonialism, the very idea of stripping Muslim women of their hijab became an erotic idea that thousands upon thousands of old white men indulged in. It became a part of the culture of traveler literature and orientalist movements sweeping across Europe.
The bodies of Muslim women, time and again, have been the territory upon which political battles are fought. Battles that, in their very essence, are about controlling Islam itself or are intended to break the ego of the Muslim male. In re-studying the Sīra, a project that I have engaged in now for over 30 years, the most remarkable thing is that it is clear that Muslims need to retell the Sīra, but this time, with absolute fairness to the involvement of women in the history of the Sīra. Any serious student of the Sīra should be struck by the fact that the role of Muslim women in establishing the early history of Islam, especially at the time of the Prophet, would be no less than 50%. Their participation was overwhelming in every aspect of life.
No ummah can prosper without the complete and total involvement of 50% of its population. The only way that colonial enterprises, such as France, and the paradigms of colonialism of the mythology of liberating Muslim women, and the fetishizing of Muslim women are battles that can only be fought by Muslim women. It is Muslim women who must take the helm in fighting these battles that have to do with their autonomy and self-determination in Europe and elsewhere around the world.
But Muslim women cannot fight these battle unless men play a full supportive role. If you are a father, your role is to raise the best Muslim woman that you can. Educate her in the best way that you can. Imbue her with a sense of dignity and honor, and teach her that the protection of her dignity and her honor is her business. No man can fight her fights for her. Only she can fight her own fight. Only she can decide what to do about a central issue like the hijab. We, as an ummah, will not move ahead until the percentage of participation in our causes, by Muslim women, rise to the level of at least 50%.
Masculine patriarchal societies are directly correlated to despotic and authoritarian societies, and patriarchal despotic authoritarian societies will not prosper. There is no way forward, no path of enlightenment, and no path to civilization, only the path to corruption and hypocrisy. The sooner we learn this lesson, the better, because we need to wake up and see the way that the world keeps targeting our faith and targeting our children - wanting to strip them of their pride and identity - so that none of them, when they grow up, can proudly hold themselves up as Muslims.