“do what you are instructed/commanded to do” (37:99-111)

Perhaps I should start by saying this: what burdens I bear when I imagine/dream that I have to give of myself (i am “sacrificing”), my love, my time, my energy, my compassion to the world!!! The poverty and death demand and solicit from me, without waiting for me to choose, indignation and sadness. Beauty solicits appreciation and love! This sadness and this love burdens me – the sadness by stripping away my peace, the love also by stripping away my peace and leaving me vulnerable to loss and heartbreak. Should I try to bear these burdens, build capacity to bear these losses, continue to fight and “sacrifice”, “cut my attachments”? This is not what I learn from the Quran. Such “asceticism” is one possible human response (and it seems rational at first) but it is not revelation’s guidance as far as I am concerned. Revelation’s guidance is to reveal my imagined sacrifice as a misguided option. The alternative is to see the truth of attachment to beauty and my sadness at injustice. It is a command at work! and it is with awareness of the One who commands as such that all safety and wholeness/righteousness lies.

The “good news (bassharna) that is the unflinching, righteous server (min al-sabirin, ghulam) that has become second nature to me (so that it shares in my walking/struggles instead of bearing the good news that, revelation claims, it is). The title I have chosen is, to me, one of the key revelatory moments, a key re-description, a real alternative to the way Abraham (me) describes/understands his reality without his lord’s guidance. The righteous serving boy/son are, potentially, all created beings that could serve as means to my peace or else be the empty and mute spectators of my suffering, loss and murderous relegation unto non-existence of all that is beloved to me.

I can relate with Abraham – a person despaired of traditions and cultures and stories I am asked to embody and protect and pass on. I am instead seeking guidance from my maker, whoever is keeping me here, whoever brought me here. What is all this? What can give me a ground to stand on? what can make me feel things are alright, good, wonderful, wholesome (salih), and what makes me sure/justified in feeling/thinking that I can be, in the midst of so much that troubles me and so much that seems “broken” in the world around me, feel at peace (salam)? What would make peace descend upon me as it does upon Abraham (which is me) according to revelation? What happens between the starting point in 37:99 (me/Abraham turning to his/my lord with the hope and expectation that He will guide) and 37: (109-111) where Abraham is described (and so I am described) as being in an excellent/rewarded/safe/peaceful state?

Abraham finds himself slaughtering what is dear to him. This, he is made to describe (in the text) as something he sees/experiences in a dream-like state. It feels unreal when what we find ourselves tortured by what we love or value. Consider my rage against slavery or racism or rape or murder. I take it as given that I am enraged by injustice. It is second nature to me. It feels like its me. And the existence of this rage in me, this sadness and helplessness in me, the will to do something about it, is what the text describes as an unreal/dreamy vision of slaughtering this sadness. I consume this sense and as I consume it, use it, I experience rage, sadness and the burdens of ethical action. I describe my rage in terms of being anti-racist, a feminist, an activist, a social justice warrior, a decent human being etc. It is in the name of anti-racism that I am against racism. This is my fantasy, like Abraham’s dream-like slaughter of what was given to him as a good news. The sense of rage/sadness (the ghulam/son who is second nature to me, so much so that i feel it is just me and nothing more/else), does not impose upon me that I must entrust it to its source. It waits patiently for me to make a choice about it. It declares, according to the Quran, that it is what/as it is by “God’s will” (in sha Allah). It tells me “be full or rage against colonialism and racism and injustice” not in a dream-like state so that you see this rage as your possession/property which you slaughter/consume BUT INSTEAD “be full of rage and indignation and active for the cause of justice AS YOU ARE COMMANDED (by the sustainer/owner and source of Justice, Compassion, the Judge, the One who Requites perfectly). My sense of rage is a command of my lord. It is His servant. When I act while entrusting this rage to Him, I am not a servant/adorer of anti-racism, I am not acting in the name of some other system or abstraction or identitarian framework that asks for me loyalty. When I act as such, the Quran describes it as a dream-like, delusional use/slaughter of rage which cannot bring me any peace because it does not bring me any news of a Real, Eternal Compassion and Justice.

When I entrust/surrender this sense of rage to its only owner and source (not me, not any ideology or group of people that may have any “share” in this), I act for the sake of the Just. In doing the same thing, I do not slaughter away my rage but instead “affirm the truth” (saddaqa) of my vision/experience of rage. This truth is the realization that my Lord is indeed Compassionate and Just. I find myself enraged AND BECAUSE OF THIS RAGE, in the presence of the Compassionate One, a servant of His will/command which says “let there be justice”. My rage is not consumed. It bears news of Real justice and compassion. It bears news of the ever-living, in whose name I mourn the loss of life. Only a consciousness that is the command of the ever-living causes the mourning of life. It is this consciousness of perfect justice and perfect compassion that gives me the grounds to be at peace. Perfect life (and a consciousness that is aware of it) is not perturbed by the loss of life because there is no loss in reality. The sense of loss, the rage at the apparent loss of life, the active effort to preserve life and justice and to prevent loss of life, are all the outcomes of the command/will of Perfect Life that I/Abraham finds in himself. The good news about who my Lord is becomes available to me when I see the truth about my sense of justice (for example). This slaughter goes from being a use/loss to a metaphorical “ransom” that I pay for seeing the command that the server (ghulam) carries for me.

What is second nature to me can be hijacked by other-than-the source of what is good in me. Anti-racism can feel like “just being myself.” I am asked to be good, to be ethical, to do the right thing. The Quran teaches the right/salih thing is being done as a command. That I should do it realizing I am following the command of a Just and compassionate One. so that I may not use the sense of justice and its fruits and be left with nothing but pain and heartache (of being in a world that needs my rage and just actions). This is painful for the heart. Why is the world so broken, the heart complains. The one who acted justly as if carrying out the command/will of the Just is not left with nothing. It does not slaughter. The slaughter is replaced by a bearer of good news. This good news is the reward/jaza for the One who saw the truth and did not slaughter/use/consume rage mindlessly. For the one who acted in his own name or the in the name of some ideology, there is no such jaza. The world is not right. There is no righteousness/excellence to the way things are.

Of course, to clarify, if feminism and anti-racism is just the name of the attitude and not the source of the attitude, then surely they are the correct attitude to have (if e.g. by feminism you mean, as I do, the total, unqualified equality and equal dignity of men and women). But as ideologies in whose name one is asked to understand one’s attitudes and indignations etc, they are false and alternatives to what the Quran asks me to see as the reality/source of said attitude.

Also, and of course, if I am not where Abraham is at the start, and I do not make the choice that Abraham is depicted as being asked to make by the good news of a righteous servant, it would be no surprise if I do not feel rewarded with peace and safety and an excellent state of being.

Now if you are into eating or distributing meat or into fun activities for your families/kids, petting goat/sheep etc and some days off work and time to spend with family, dressing up, so and so on, by all means go ahead and sacrifice your goats and camels and lambs, just please don’t tell me you are sacrificing in some sort of commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice because there was/is none as far he is concerned. If you want to commemorate Abraham, confirm the truth of what you wrongly see as sacrifice and do, when you do anything, as you are commanded to do by your Lord, the owner of all news-bearing, righteous actions that issue forth from you.

The teachings of these verses relieve for me the age-old tension between the “joy of existence” and “moral conscience”. I learn from these verses that moral conscience it the pre-requisite for finding real joy of existence, the Necessary One by whose command all exists and thus shall exist perfectly without end. It is “bismillah” that resolves the tension without asking me to ignore my conscience and without asking me to despair about the joy of existence.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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