Personal and Societal Crises
  • Sun, 07/17/2016
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I was listening to a man speak. He was very agitated, complaining about the government and politics. No matter. He was certainly not the first to do so, and criticism is not a problem. It might very well be the least right that a citizen has is the right to shout out loud.

However, he then turned to the topic of those who disagreed with his views, and this is where things got bad. He railed against them with words I am unable to repeat. In the midst of his tirade of foul language, he managed to accuse the religious scholars of being pens for hire. He then attacked civic organisations, slandered their officials, and then moved on to attack those who criticised the very people he was attacking!

In turn, he divided everyone into groups. The first were those who were given to flattery and refrained from saying what they really meant. The next were those who went too far and became extreme. The next were those who preferred to stay quiet. Then there were others who withdrew from everything. He also attacked a fifth group, but I forgot what he accused them of. In the end, everyone was painted in a negative light. Not a single good thing was said about any person. No one was described as being reasonable, sound-minded, or possessing judgement.

Then, he decided to justify everything he said by placing it within a religious framework. He quoted the Qur’an and mentioned precedents from the life of the Prophet. He made it as if his own personal opinions were the indisputable, uncompromising truth, so anyone who would disagree had to either be motivated by base desires and material gain, or just be completely stupid and ignorant. He compared his detractors with people in crisis, and compared them to those who are mentioned in the scripture who accused the prophets of being mad.

This was the extent of his conceitedness. How could he compare himself to a prophet, as if he was protected from error and given a mandate from Allah to guide the people to what is right?

A psychological crisis is not a form of madness. It does not even come close. It can befall the best of people. It can occur for a short time, or endure for a protracted period. It all depends on how strong the person’s self-awareness is, and if they can resist taking the thoughts that beset them in their crisis and transforming them into firm beliefs and convictions through which they disassociate themselves from others.

A psychological crisis is like a temporary death. It resembles death in the debilitating grief and anxiety it causes for the afflicted person, which prevents them from living a normal life in any way. It is temporary, because Allah always revives the earth after it is dead. It could pass quickly because it is connected to a specific cause, like marital problems or a failed business venture. It passes when the person either resolves the problem or tries something else.

A realization that one is afflicted with a crisis mentality is the important breakthrough, heralding the beginning of recovery. It allows people to return to a more balanced state of mind and a more moderate understanding of themselves and their surrounding circumstances.

On the Societal Level

We have a tendency to categorise others while cataloguing their crimes and errors. We box them into our pre-conceived understanding of factions and sects, as if it is inevitable that each person must fit neatly in one or another of them. At the same time, we come up with justifications and rationalizations for the individuals, parties, and groups we identify with.

Humanity is our real common denominator. We share a proximity with all other human beings, and have a common set of inalienable rights as neighbours and kin in this world. This shared identity, our many shared interests, and basic ethics can provide us with a peaceful means to engage with each other when we differ.

People disagree with each other. This needs to be acknowledged. We should not shy away from our disagreements or try to gloss them over. The critical matter is to make sure we uphold the rights of those who disagree with us.

People do not have to share the same set of values and the societal identities to be just with one another. We must speak truthfully and act justly with everyone without exception. Injustice is always a sin. It is never allowed. Allah says: “Do not let the hatred of a people cause you to act unjustly. Be just; that is nearer to piety.” [Sūrah al-Mā’idah: 8]

`Amr b. al-`Ās described the Romans as: “the quickest people to recover from a crisis.” [,em>Sahīh Muslim] He was not describing individual people and their personal problems. He was discussing the culture of the people in general, how they were able to easily forget the conflicts and wars they suffered from, recover from the trauma of those events, and look forward to a better future, especially among themselves.

We see what Amr b. al-`Ās said to be true for the European and American people. They were able to put behind them the wars that cost millions of lives, especially the two World Wars. They were able to think about their common interests and build strong ties between their countries.

By contrast, in the Middle East, we are still beset by tribal feuds and civil wars. The way people in the region fixate on these divisions between them makes it likely that similar conflicts will continue to surface in the future, since we are raising our children within such a mind-set.

I visited Bosnia and the people there took me to various cities. I went to Serb and Croat areas as well as Muslim areas, and I saw people calmly going about their daily lives as if the war had happened sometime in the distant past. Of course, people still carried within them the effects of the war, which could either be stirred up or diminished. It is still possible for corrupt politicians to incite these feelings in pursuit of their own base motives and personal ambitions.

We need to make ourselves the keys to a better future and obstacles to misfortune. We should emulate the example of Prophet Muhammad when he arrived in Madinah, where Muslims lived along with pagans and Jews. Whenever there was tension, he acted to calm things down, because he believed that and atmosphere of peace and calm is the best atmosphere wherein to call people to Islam and touch their minds.

We should never think that conflict is the best way to reach our goals. When people give up on reason and the loudest, angriest voice wins the day, it is a crisis of major proportions.