IN CONVERSATION WITH MEHDI

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A love letter to Islam

This evening I spoke with my dear housemate about a book that I have gifted to him. It’s called “Letters To A Young Muslim” by Omar Saif Ghobash.

We spent the following couple of hours talking about Islam as he was very curious to explore my views on it.

This time round I was interviewed on why I’ve been so curious about this religion in the past year or so and what do I like about it. Here are some snippets from our discussion.

Mehdi: What is this book about?

This book is written by a Muslim Father who writes letters to his Habeebie (son). Through series of letters, the author expresses his views on currently challenges that a modern Muslim faces in the contemporary world, toughing upon issues with regards to terrorism, views presented about women in Quran, what are the constrains in practicing Islam in the current day and age.

I loved how the author wrote these letters in such a gentle, concerning and nurturing tone. He presented the beauty of Islam to his son, but also wanted to prepare him with most kindness for what is coming up in his life.

It’s challenging to be a Muslim currently. There is still a lot of misconceived fear around it, that’s why I’m interested in learning more about it.

Mehdi: How did you come across Quran?

Well… I live with a Muslim. I also dated a Muslim. I have many friends who are Muslims as well. My interest started growing from the first time I was ever exposed to it which was back in my High School in the United States. I lived with four wonderful ladies from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who practiced Islam daily. When I moved to Dublin, one of the very first people I met was a Pakistani Muslim as well. Throughout my life I have developed beautiful friendships which opened a door for me to see a world throughout their eyes.

One in common value that all those souls that I have met have is — kindness.

They are all incredibly kind, purposeful, simple, wholehearted people. People of enormous generosity and human spirit. They are all connected to something that is bigger than themselves and they don’t get bogged down into small matters of life, because they clearly see a bigger pictures most of the time.

Mehdi: What are the two things that you like in Quran?

I haven’t yet finished reading Quran and it’s taking me a long time to do so. The English translation that I have is a complex one, so sometimes it takes time to fully understand and study it. However, so far, what’ I like about Quran is:
  1. It’s simplicity & clarity
  2. The values & behaviours that are so well defined across absolutely every element. All actions has a purpose and explanation for why it’s there. It’s designed in a way that
Mehdi: Do you think it’s made up? Do you think this religion is fake?

It’s interesting you say that because of course there are elements across different religions that I fundamentally disagree on. For example, beating yourself up with a stick, I don’t think that’s meant to be good for you. A more gentle approach is Ramadan where cleansing a body for a month is actually very beneficial.

Ultimately, I believe in God. In higher powers. Or whatever name or label people feel comfortable expressing it. I don’t think that this world is randomly here without order. There are too many lucky happenings. I also believe that there are different ways and methods that people reach that higher power be it religion, spiritual, rituals, meditation, reading, sports. I don’t think there is one way that is the way. Each person has a choice to pick theirs, if they feel that they need it. It’s our freewill.

Mehdi: What do you practice?

I don’t practice Islam, just because I don’t know Arabic. I find it soothing, but I also respect the fact that this religion has such a specific and well defined ways around it, that I don’t want to disrespect it by doing it incorrectly in any way.

I practice active meditation. I practice spiritual learnings. I pray in my own way. I’m currently developing and growing my own spiritual practice which consists of various religions and spiritualities.

Mehdi: Do you think you need it?

Yes, of course. It gives peace of mind. It helps to stay present. It brings a sense of relief. We live in a society that seems to be made up of lonely, sullen and isolated individuals. Most religions are teaching us how to let go of things that don’t actually matter and focus on higher state of mind, which gives sense of clarity and peace.
  • Everything has a purpose.
  • Everything has a reason. From Ramadan to how to behave in various situations.
Mehdi: It’s very interesting to hear the things that you have expressed and the way you see Islam because normally I speak about these ideas with people who practice Islam only. I have never come across a person who understands the reasoning behind our religion but doesn’t practice it.

There is a series on Netflix called Manhunt: Unabomber. It’s about a serial killer who has wrote a manuscript about how the society should be. The reason why he killed people was because he fundamentally disagreed with how people currently live, but the actual manifesto written by the murder has very interesting philosophical ideas presented in it.

Quran Haram — not allowed
  • eating pork
  • drinking alcohol
  • lying and stealing Or taking things that are not yours
  • Hurting others or yourself
Quotes from A letter to a Young Muslim
  • Habeebie Saif, I do not want you to learn the most important lessons in life from people who do not love you as I love you.
  • Islam is a religion of peace.
  • Discover your own right to think for yourself. Your perseverance, kindness, or humour creates a ripple effect in our culture just as much as your indifference, violence or negativity.
  • The West offers temptations, both physical and moral temptations.
  • There are others out there like you. They also feel the outrage. They feel the sense of impotence when they look at the way people seem to shrug at the news of the latest atrocity, and then get on with their mundane lives. Fast-food restaurants, TV shows, Facebook, Instagram. You are all perplexed by the way people seem to be more interested in the petty politics of Congress and the European Union than they are by the greatest moral question of the twenty-first century. You, like human beings in general, have this constant urge to make sense of the world around you. It can be a painful process, but there is light at the end of this tunnel of worry, anxiety, and self doubt.
  • When all the clutter of modern life is removed, the path opens up before you towards meaning and purpose.
  • Mosques are places of warmth and community.
  • The Quran provides a stable reference point in a world of change, of turmoil and of turbulence. This gives us as Muslims a sense of solidity and of certainty.
  • Our Islamic ethics traditionally reflect this kind of approach. Simplicity.
  • It became clear to me with the years that sinning, making moral mistakes, being weak in the face of desire, possibility, and temptation were all things that make us human. I began to think that rather than torturing ourselves with guilt over these errors, there was the possibility of returning of a balanced, understanding middle zone.
The Limits of what we can know
  • We begin to project something of our own character into the person we are rebuilding.
  • Life is diverse. Living is to live with difference.
Who on earth told you that?
  • i want you to be polite, but demand respect for your mind and independence of will. If what someone tells you sounds convincing, ask more questions. Stay strong and do not hand your fate to others.
  • Beware about endowing others with a goodness they do not have. Recognise that the goodness you see in them may actually be your own goodness. Turn your eyes inward to your own goodness and recognise that for what it is worth.
What is True Islam?
  • Peace is a permanent stance towards the world. Peace makes real sense when it is offered as a response to anger, aggression, and violence. I want you to grab hold of the responsibility of peace, but as a reminder of a great responsibility that you have towards Allah, towards others and towards yourself.
Responsibility
  • I want you to take responsibility. Without responsibility, you are on the run, you hide, you lower your head. Responsibility means looking out for the disadvantaged in your community. Look for them. Our societies tend to focus on the new, the clean, the young, the beautiful. Who wants to thin about the ugliness and unhappiness in life? I want you to devote some of your time to helping those who are on the borders of society. Look around for those who cannot read or write. Go out and build a volunteer organisations to teach them this most basic of skills. Responsibility should be identified and targeted.
  • If you want to take responsibility, use what you have to support artists, writers, thinkers, filmmakers. Go out and be an artist, writer, thinker or film makers. The Muslim world needs to reflect upon itself. The way for us to take responsibility is to go out into the world and do, take action, make the first move forward.
  • The first kind of responsibility is the responsibility you take for your own actions. And to take responsibility for your own actions, I believe you must firs take responsibility for your own beliefs. This is the second type of responsibility.
  • A lifelong search of knowledge through order and meaning are vital.
The Perspective of An Outsider
  • I want you to consider yourself privileged because you are alive, full of life, and because you have the opportunity to contribute something positive to this world. These negative attacks or comments give you the content for deeper reflections on what people’s lives can and should be about.
  • It is better to effect change through your behaviour, through your statements, through your consistency, through your advocacy. And if you stand up and demonstrate that you, in your so-called state of imperfection, can do better than any of your peers, then you will have gone a long way toward changing the perceptions that surround us.
  • Recognise rejection — and follow its consequences.
  • I stopped accepting the low and sometimes impossible standards of others around me. I decided to be myself.
  • Find yourself, look for yourself, discover yourself, shape yourself, fill the gaps of yourself, draw clearer lines around the areas of yourself that you recognise, discipline yourself and test yourself. Ownership of one’s self in today’s world means that you engage with today’s world.
  • To reject a friend with whom you have grown up is to reject a fundamental part of your own personality and history. We grow up in human interactions with one another.
  • Life is to be lived and that there is always more than one way of dealing with obstacles.
Violence
  • You have a choice to give priority to certain principles and certain values.
  • The more difficult and more valuable sacrifice a person can make is to face the complexity of modern life and live life to its fullest — morally, spiritually and socially. It is far more difficult to deal with the troubles thrown up by a globalized economy, the complexities of modern city life, and the utter sense of futility that all of us feel at some stage. And morally far more important.
Reason
  • Human perception is not equally distributed and that you want to discover how others have perceived the world around us.
  • Every generation of Muslims should reexamine their faith and their understanding in the terms that they understand.
  • You can choose to find knowledge, wisdom and understanding in all cultures, literature, and philosophies. You can choose to be locked into a particular world, or you can set forth into a world of human experience.
Sermons
  • The beauty of prayer and communal workshop
  • I believe that we have a duty, that we are called upon, to bring our highest and best qualities to Islam as we practice it. If we do not, the deficiency is not within Islam, the deficiency is within us as people who have not thought deeply enough, or tried hard enough, to make sense of the disparate factors pulling on us. We should experience the perspective of other faiths in order to reflect on our own
  • If you let go of your personal ethical point-scoring, then you will likely have reached a higher ethical state within Islam. Give of your goodness freely.
Search of Knowledge
  • There is also an important aspect to the physical presence of a book, which you can feel and smell and write notes all over. Become a physical-intellectual extension of yourself.
  • I am interested in the way other cultures answer general questions of life. I am interested in moral questions.
  • When reading Quran you will find topics such as the way in which to pray, and how to prepare for prayer. Others cover matters such as kindness, and generosity. Others will baffle you unless you again have access to an explanation and interpretation.
  • In the search for knowledge, if we are honest with ourselves, we will find that knowledge is the common property of all of humanity.
Self Education
  • Self reflection is instrumental to understanding not just who you are but also your relevance. Building an individual identity begins by looking at yourself and discerning what characteristics are products of our family heritage and the prejudices of our wider community, as opposed to what characteristics are intrinsic to your own special and specific nature.
  • The education that i see for you is one that is based on an understanding that you can grow as a complex and whole individual if you recognise the role of responsible imagination in building yourself. I want you to grab hold of your imagination and force it to think through the myriad possibilities that exist for your life path. I then want you to make the choices you make, taking full and free responsibility for those choices. Bring your freedom and responsibility out into the open and embrace it.
  • By purposeful experience, I mean going out and placing yourself in position where you are compelled by circumstances to take responsibility. Climb a mountain. Volunteer with children in a poverty-stricken country. Help a friend out of trouble. Help someone less privileged than yourself. Teach someone how to read and write. Speak in public and hear what people think of you. You will refine your understanding of yourself in the same way that a sculptor releases a figure from a block of marble.
  • Self-discovery is part of the process of assuming responsibility as an individual in the world. It is through speech that we identify ourselves and we dialogue with others.
  • Educate yourself, work hard, and find the answers to life’s difficult questions. Islam is the Answer, because Islam calls upon us to take responsibility for our own lives.
  • I want you to promise yourself that you will always maintain your dignity, your individuality, and your independence of mind. You will be the decider of your own path.