In 1913, Pickthall spent several months in Turkey, where he sought to counteract the anti-Muslim agitation of the British press by collecting first-hand information about the massacres of Muslims which had taken place in Macedonia in the previous year. The result was a series of lectures to the Anglo-Ottoman Friendship Society, and a book, With the Turk in Wartime (London: J.M. Dent). The following is a chapter.
In Misket Hanum’s garden I found visitors. Three bare-headed, bare-faced, black-haired, comely maidens were with my hostess on a seat beneath the deodars. Misket had talked to me about them previously. They were Greeks from a village up the Bosphorus – fearless, self-respecting girls who earned a modest living by their work as dressmakers, journeying from house to house. At one time they had gone to Christian houses only; but latterly, by Misket Hanum’s recommendation, had worked for Turks as well. As they themselves informed me they were petted by all the Turkish ladies, and treated by the men with all respect. Yet they dared not let their parents know that they had ever been employed in Muslim houses. Had the fact been but suspected in their village they would have been ostracised, perhaps stoned; for ignorant Christians are as fanatical as ignorant Muslims. A native Christian girl who marries a Mohammedan is killed as a sacred duty by her nearest relatives if they can get at her. On the steamer on which my wife and I travelled to Marseilles at the end of July, there was such a girl among the steerage passengers. Her brothers had beguiled her into accompanying them to America where her Muslim husband was already trying to make money. At Marseilles they performed her murder in a curiously open manner, seeming to think the deed would be applauded in a Christian country.
These Greek dressmakers, therefore, gave it out, at seasons when they were employed in Turkish houses, that they were working for a European, Misket Hanum, who thus acquired a reputation for extravagance and love of finery. They gave her house as their address in case of letters, and generally came to stay there in the intervals of work; Misket Hanum, like the Turkish ladies, keeping open house for women. Yet, though they owned to being much indebted to the Turks for kindness, they hated them, as I discovered presently; and did not see how any Muslim could really be regarded by a Christian as a fellow-creature.
Seeing me in a fez, they took me for a Turk at first, and were going to withdraw when Misket Hanum introduced me, with a touch of malice, as an Englishman who much preferred the Turks to ‘Greeks, etcetera.’ At that they all broke out:
It was impossible! A European could not really like the Turks! What was there in them to inspire a liking? They were good-natured, truly; so were many animals. But were they not barbarians, and cruelly fanatical? Did they not keep their women in seclusion? In a word, they were not Christians. How could anyone prefer them? As a return for Misket Hanum’s little thrust, all three declared their firm belief that if I wore that hateful head-dress and pretended to love Turks, it was simply from terror of my hostess, who might otherwise have turned me out of doors.
‘Why, what have you against the Turks?’ cried Misket Hanum. ‘Is it not true that when your father’s house was burnt one night, the Turks, and not your precious Christian brethren, took you in, and got up a subscription for you?’
That was true, the girls admitted; the Muslims often did kind actions, which, however, could not blind a Christian to their utter and essential wickedness, the product of a false religion. It was known that they esteemed it holiness to kill a Christian when they got the chance. As for this poor, wandering Englishman, how should he know anything about them, having just arrived! It was evident that he took his cue from present company, for peace.
At this point I was moved to say that I knew something of Mohammedans, having spent a great part of my life with them. I asked these girls to give a single instance of Mohammedan fanaticism, not hearsay, but their own experience. The two elder appeared disconcerted by the point-blank question; but the youngest, nothing daunted, answered hotly:-
‘I have heard them call out “ghiaour” behind me in the public street.’ The horror of this accusation hardly reached me. It resembled that made by the Christians of San Stefano to M. Lausanne when he was inquiring of the conduct of raw Turkish troops from Asia who had encamped there by the thousand during many weeks: ‘Shocking! One of them kissed a girl the other day.’ I had to struggle with a strong desire to laugh before replying: ‘That is nothing. I have been stoned by Muslims more than once.’
Their astonishment at that remark was very great.
‘And yet you like them? It is hardly possible. You are joking, certainly. Why should they have stoned you? And, if they stoned you seriously, how did you escape?’
I assured them I was very far from joking. The thing had happened to me once in Hebron, once in a village northward from Jerusalem, and three or four times in the Muslim quarter of Beyrout, which eighteen years ago was very rough indeed. My only crime had been to wear an ugly English hat.
‘So that is why you wear a fez at present, is it?’ sneered the eldest of the girls; nevertheless she begged me to proceed with my narration and say how I escaped from these fanatics.
Not being a native Christian, I informed her, and therefore not having fanaticism on the brain, I on each occasion had looked upon the stoning merely as a piece of impudence involving danger to my horse and me. I simply rode my horse at the assailants, desiring to know what they meant by throwing stones at us, and invariably I was supported by the sense of justice of the crowd. Once in the outskirts of Beyrout, a friend who was with me had just thrashed the ringleader – a boy about fifteen – within an inch of his life, when the father of that boy, with other elders, came upon the scene. The men were fully armed. We looked for trouble. But no sooner had I told our tale to the newcomers than the father pounced upon his son and administered a second hiding, still more awful than the first. When they discerned the moral of my tale, the three girls bridled highly and disdained it, observing that Muslims were not Christians so could not be tolerated. She then turned to Misket Hanum and in the same chill tone congratulated her on having found a guest after her own heart.
I had many subsequent opportunities of studying the point of view of ordinary Greeks, for these girls were often in the house and our cook was also Greek and fond of argument. I never ceased to marvel at its pure fanaticism. They really liked the Turks of their acquaintance; that is to say, their own experience would have made them tolerant, but for the instruction which they had received from priest and parents, in which they hurriedly took refuge if accused of such a liking. They were gentle girls, incapable of harming anyone; yet I have heard them earnestly maintain that the great persecution of Mohammedans at that time going on in Macedonia was justified upon religious grounds; though they changed their tune directly it was known that the Greeks had suffered too. Some Turkish men, who visited our house habitually, took delight in teasing them until they showed fanaticism. Then they would turn to me and say: ‘Amazing, is it not? In this century! But all Greeks, without exception, are like that.’
The Greeks of Turkey were not always like that. Of old, when their women veiled like the Turkish women, when their men wore fez and turban like the Turkish men, there was no such bitterness between the two religions. If they are ‘like that’ today it is the outcome of a century and more of anti-Turkish propaganda, first Russian, then Hellenic. How many Turkish subjects have thus cunningly and patiently been trained to be a barrier to Turkish progress, to prevent the realisation of my Muslim khôja’s dream of peace and goodwill!
There is an aspect of this Christian question which has not been touched upon by any writer that I know of. It is the utter helplessness of the Christian subjects of the Porte before the Muslims, as compared with their immense pretensions. Their pride is not in what they have achieved themselves, but in what their co-religionists have done for them. They have seen province after province taken by the Powers from Turkey, and made into an independent Christian State, and they glory in each loss to Turkey as their victory; forgetting that, but for the interference of the Powers, Turkey would have lost no territory in Europe, or if she lost it for a moment, would have soon regained it. All the achievements of the Western world, in every field, they claim as theirs upon the score of Christianity. They have assimilated themselves in dress and manners to the Europeans, who have established privileges in the Ottoman dominions, and incline to claim those privileges on the strength of mere resemblance. When one remembers that these people are the conquered race, and that they constantly announce themselves as future conquerors, with talk of turnng Aya Sofia into a church again, and crowning a new Constantine before its altar, it is a wonder that the hatred should appear on one side only. Yet so it is. The Turks dislike the Greeks – chiefly, I believe, on grounds of roguery – but laugh at them; they do not hate them.
‘Oh,’ said the friend, who, for his quiet judgments, I had chosen for my mentor, when we broached this subject; ‘the hatred that they have for us is imposed on them, a kind of dogma. They hate the Armenians, Bulgars, Catholics with another, much more lively kind of hatred, I assure you. If Europe would but say decidedly that Greece shall never have Constantinople, that no more territory shall be taken from us, those people might become good subjects.’
Among the cultured, cosmopolitan Greeks of Constantinople one occasionally finds a cordial liking for the Turks. A Greek of this sort who was interested in my studies invited us to his island villa towards the end of my stay in Turkey. One evening, as we smoked together, looking out upon the sea and the many distant lights which marked the entrance to the Bosphorus, he let fall this strange saying: ‘You cannot say much for the Turks that would appeal to English people, for they are unbusinesslike – a fault for which commercial Europe will never forgive them. But you can say with truth that they are generally good and kindly while the Christians of this country are – well, “wicked”; I can find no other word for it.’
I cannot honestly endorse that judgment, in so far as it concerns the poorer peasant Christians, whom I know and like. It may be true of the rich Levantines; I cannot say. But the poorer Christians are not wicked; only they have been misled, and schooled to great intolerance, at a time when Muslim education tends the other way. After I had been two months in Misket Hanum’s house the Greek cook asked me: ‘Do you truly like the Muslims? Surely it is only a pretence. We have watched you and feel sure you are a Christian. Why, then, do you like them?’
She seemed really worried. I gave some reason which occurred to me. She thought it good, and quite agreed with me – on natural ground.
‘But still they are not Christians,’ she suspired. ‘It is so surprising.’
It was the supernatural aspects of the case, at war with facts, which worried her.
Ramadan brings to the surface some of Istanbul’s deepest human secrets. The great City resembles the improbable arm of the sea that cuts it in half, cheerfully consistent on the surface, yet churned by strange currents known only to veteran fishermen. The fasting month, in spite of its private nature (‘Fasting is Mine’, as the hadith insists), is more of a public affair than any of the other rites of religion, perhaps because of its elemental quality; and in this city it forces each citizen to decide how he stands with God. No-one is surprised to see the men in green caps crouched behind the wheels of their old Shahins, weaving through the traffic ten minutes before sundown. More interesting are the fashionable young men with pigtails and goatees (the current fad), discreetly accepting glasses of tea as the adhan divides the City into the grateful and the guilty. The first useful lesson that Istanbul provides is never to judge by appearances.
The adhan rolls out from a thousand minarets; and foodstalls and borek parlours that have been sleepy all day, catering only for the odd tourist or religious cynic, suddenly spring into life. God seems to have thrown a giant switch, and the whole city is galvanized. Many Stambullus have been waiting at restaurant tables for an hour before sundown, and those who are still milling in the streets will now have to struggle to find a hot meal. This is the picture even in the chic Westernised suburbs of Kadiköy, Beyoglu and Sisli; while near the great mosques, their minarets beacons which summon huge crowds, fairs are now doing brisk business. Around the great mosque-complex of Sultanahmet, hundreds of street vendors, many defying the prohibition on non-Western dress, call out the virtues of their candyfloss, sweetcorn, roast chestnuts, pastries, buttermilk, lindenflower tea, and spiced sausages. The aroma of tripe soup and tobacco mingles with religious songs by Gunesdogdu, Bahriyeli and Ozer. Children gape at street performers (the fortune-teller with his baby rabbits; the shadow-puppet man, the legless beggar on wheels).
By the western gate of the Sultanahmet Mosque a man dressed in a Goofy suit suddenly appears, followed by a camera crew. This is Doggy, chief attraction of a children’s show on Hilal TV, one of Turkey’s fifteen religious channels. Doggy has come to Sultanahmet, it seems, to ask small children how old they are. The smallest are aghast, as well they might be; but the older ones are quite familiar with Doggy. They talk firmly into the microphone, giving their names and ages, and talking about what they like best about Ramadan. Back in the studio, later on, Doggy will bow his head as a child member of his studio audience recites a poem about the Prophet’s poverty. The camera zooms in on the face of a little girl, who is about to cry.
Out of place in this crowd are the tourists. Jollity forms no part of their understanding of Islam; and this happy yet entirely non-alcoholic street party seems to worry them. Once, in the days of romance-hunters like Nerval and Pierre Loti, the difference of the foule Orientale allowed Europeans an Olympian detachment, as they contemplated ‘Turkish customs’ as a raree-show of curious menagerie performances. Now, however, as the Turks’ clothes and body language have been Westernised – indeed, as young Turks look more fashionable than the tourists themselves – the difference of ‘Oriental’ from ‘European’ has been largely abolished. This new City is more challenging because less strange, and many visitors seem to respond with a grim determination to hold their breath, rather than to inhale the air which animates these happy crowds.
Some spectacular examples of this are readily found. Tourist women who are asked not to enter mosques or graveyards with their thighs exposed behave like righteous martyrs, their faces indicating all the contempt which the enlightened West will muster in the face of benighted prudishness. And once, at the Beyazit mosque, I saw a group of German men enter the mosque during the prayer. Walking up and down the rows of worshippers, they scanned their camcorders over the faces of these picturesque Turks. When the prayer was over, the Turks called the tourist police, who no doubt explained politely that the sensibilities of worshippers should be respected. I suspect that the proud Teutons, coming from a country where Muslims have to pay a tax to support the national churches, may not have understood the nature of their offence.
What the tourists at Sultanahmet really resent, of course, is not the existence of smiling Turks, but the fact that all this joy seems connected to the vast shadow of the imperial mosque which looms behind the fair. High above the throng, suspended between two of the six minarets, is a mahya, a pattern of lightbulbs whose message is changed every couple of days. Today it is ‘TOGETHERNESS IS A MERCY.’ In Ottoman times, the mahyaci, or master-craftsman responsible for designing and hoisting these messages, was a public celebrity. He would embroider coloured designs on pieces of satin, which he would present to the sultan, who would then choose the designs and phrases which would appear on the great imperial mosques. On occasion the mahyaci would present moving images, such as boats and fish. Abdullatif Efendi (d.1877), perhaps the most famous of all mahyacis, once presented an image of a royal barge suspended between the Süleymaniye’s minarets, on the night of the 15th of Ramadan. Pictures are now no longer seen, and in the early Republican period there was a vogue for national messages, such as ‘DON’T FORGET THE RED CRESCENT,’ ‘BUY LOCAL GOODS’, and ‘REMEMBER AIRCRAFT’; but today the slogans are purely religious once more.
Those who enter the courtyard during Ramadan will find an enormous bookfair, where sixty of the country’s leading religious publishers offer their newest works. In recent years, the older type of literature, such as poorly-printed prayer-books with garish covers, or manuals for housewives, has receded, in favour of a new, sophisticated body of writing. Publishers like Iz and Gelenek have no equivalent elsewhere in the Islamic world, bringing out works of interest by non-Muslim philosophers, as well as modern Muslim thinkers. The focus is on Western Muslim writers: Garaudy, Winkel, Valsan, Herlihy, Eaton and others; and Middle Eastern texts, apart from classical ones, are scarce. It is all rather intellectual, and even elitist; although populism is still present, and there are several concessions to the local love of conspiracy theories: ‘ATATURK THE BULGARIAN’ (banned); ‘ROBIN COOK POISONED BY MOSSAD FOR OPPOSING THE IRAQ WAR’ (fairly popular); ‘BIN LADEN THE PENTAGON’S PAWN: THE HIDDEN STORY’ (circulation unknown).
The Blue Mosque, despite its immensity, is full for Tarawih prayers; and this is not terribly surprising, given the beauty of the ceremony here. In some mosques, the full khatm is observed; but here the Tarawih lasts for less than an hour, after which the crowds rejoin the fun of the fair. After each four rak’as a brief interval of collective dhikr supervenes, in the form of the salat-i ummiyye; and at the end there comes a prayer which, booming around the vastnesses of the mosque, recalls the superb rolling dignity of the Ottoman language. As Urdu-speakers well know, prayers in a language where everything happens before the verb have tremendous dramatic impact: ‘And our sins, in this and earlier months, against You and other members of our nation, Our Lord, forgive! And the affairs of the Muslims here and in the world, Our Lord, set right! And to the soul of Sultan Ahmet, Our Lord, grant rest!’
In the Ottoman period, the great singers faced their greatest audiences during Ramadan worship; and in recent years attempts have been made to revive the symphonic quality of the Tarawih of days gone by. Knowledge of the maqam system is axiomatic here. Some younger, less qualified men with soaring voices are allowed to recite in the mosques during Ramadan, even when the ritual is televised live; but in theory only those with an ijaza in maqams can be heard. Hence theilahi singer in the Fatih mosque, who sings a special Ramadan qasida or a ghazal after each four rak’as, may set the artistic pace for the entire ceremony. The Istanbul adhan and iqama are often in maqam Hijaz or Saba, but the yatsi prayer itself is typically in Rast, the critical musical moment being the connection between the final words of the iqama and the imam’s takbir. This produces a contrast, which is then articulated by the muezzin in the ceremonial words which gather the congregation for the Tarawih, with its twenty formal rak’as. These often begin, as tajwid conventionally does, in maqam saba, but after four rak’as the singer will modulate into one of the modes which may permissibly follow from Saba: Kurd, Nahawand, or Ushshak. The imam of the mosque will then begin the fifthrak’a in the same maqam, beginning an exquisite modal dialogue which congnoscenti hope, usually with good reason, will descend at the right pace back to sabaduring the Witr. Six maqams may thus be heard during the single Tarawih. Kani Karaca, the blind, aged chief muezzin of the Süleymaniye mosque, who died only recently, was certainly capable of many more, firing his voice high into the sublime, shadowy spaces of Sinan’s greatest masterpiece.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, musical standards in the great metropolitan mosques started to decline. At the Süleymaniye, however, largely thanks to a musically sophisticated partnership between Imam Muzaffer Ozak (d.1985), and the chief muezzin, Hafiz Sevket Efendi, which lasted for twenty-six years, the old traditions were faithfully preserved. One of Ozak’s pupils, the singer Ahmet Ozhan, who abandoned pop culture in favour of religious music, is working hard to maintain the transmission of this precious heritage. The founder-director of the Turkish Historical Music Society, Ozhan strives to spread knowledge of the traditional Rajab and Sha’ban songs, of the different ilahi hymns appropriate at different points in Ramadan, and the right style of leading Tarawih. A household name in Turkey, Ozhan’s efforts have already transformed the quality of religious music in many of the country’s mosques.
The high artistic standards of the Istanbul Ramadan have done much to hold the attention of the Turkish population. Some entirely secular souls will come to hear the Tarawih as they might attend the opera; and many have found God as a result.
The crowds are vast, quickly filling the immensity of the mosques. But on the 27th of Ramadan, which the Mufti decrees is the most probable date of Laylat al-Qadr, the crowds and the imams shift into a still higher gear. Sabah prayer at the mosque of Eyüp is the most popular worship experience in the city; but arrive even at two in the morning on the 27th, and you will find it hard to squeeze beyond the leather curtains into the mosque interior. Here, more than anywhere else in the City, the Turks are feasting, and feasting again, on the Qur’an.
Like a benign watchful presence, behind the five-hundred year old plane tree planted by the Conqueror’s own hand in the mosque court, lies the grave of the Companion Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, which, of the hundreds of active pilgrimage sites in the City, remains the greatest magnet for visitors. The space is ablaze with a turquoise glow, supplied by the Iznik tiles, which are among the most precious ceramic masterpieces in the world. Close beside it is the I‘tikaf chamber built for Princess Adile, who spent her Ramadans here a century ago, before being buried among the royal tombs nearby. Outside lie the graves of warlike pashas, sayyids, and ulema, including Ebussuud Efendi, the great tafsir scholar, and reviver of the Shari‘a in the time of Sultan Suleyman. Here too are the sainted ladies, and then great madrasas and tekkes, beyond the stone stairs where a new Sultan, visiting the mosque for his coronation, would descend from his horse, to walk the remainder of Enthronement Road humbly on foot. In his palace, the Sultan alone could ride; at Eyüp, he too was required to dismount.
Other holy places abound in the City, and have played their part in keeping the Turkish spirit alive. Take the ferry, for instance, from Seraglio Point to the Asian suburb of Üsküdar, and you will find the tomb-complex of Aziz Mahmud Huda’i alive with visitors from every social background (this is the suburb where wealthier religious people live). Higher up the hill is the tekke of his pupil Selami Baba, whose mineral waters are still popular, and where the cemetery contains fallen heroes of Turkey’s wars. As the ship approaches the shore, one reads ‘ISLAM IS GOOD MANNERS’ in the sky-writing between the minarets of the mosque of Princess Mihrimah, daughter of Suleyman and in her day the richest woman in the world, and whose mosque and madrasa are among the climaxes of the City’s architecture. Moored nearby is the ‘Ramadan Ship’, a smart passenger vessel chartered by the Üsküdar municipality, where one may break one’s fast, and be regaled with religious music while contemplating the incomparable skyline of the European shore.
The increasing presence of women in the mosques is posing some interesting problems. Sinan and his colleagues were Hanafis, and gave little thought to the accommodation of worshipping women. Today, however, ever-larger numbers of women come to the mosques, and this is particularly evident during Ramadan. For the Sultanahmet Tarawih, therefore, large areas in the main prayer-hall have been allocated to women. In the confined space of the Noble Mantle Mosque, however, this is impossible, so the neighbouring mosque of Hoca Uveis has been designated a women-only prayer hall during the congregational prayers, particularly at the Ogle and Ikindi prayers, when most visitors come. This process seems set to continue. Most theology students in Turkey now are women, and the country appointed, in 2005, its first female muftis. There are also over six hundred full-time female preachers (vaize).
Laylat al-Qadr is followed by another change in mood. The sky-writing at Sultanahmet now reads: ‘INTERCEDE O MESSENGER OF GOD!’ Most poignant is the Arefa Day, the last day before the Bayram (its name is a curious borrowing from the fasting day before the Great Bayram). The television stations are alert to the bitter-sweet quality of this time, especially as the adhan for aksam prayer approaches. The team of men in suits who have been sitting in a boat in the Bosphorus every afternoon in Ramadan, talking about Religion and Life, are now discussing forgiveness. A live broadcast from the Eyüp mosque shows the mufti of Kayseri ending the fast with a long prayer. Even the commercial breaks are few. (MUMMY, I WANT A HITTITE BISCUIT. GIVE ME A HITTITE BISCUIT PLEASE. HAYIR GAS: BECAUSE YOUR LIFE IS PRECIOUS TO US. BELLONA FURNITURE: HOW HAPPY AM I TO HAVE FOUND IT.)
Next day, the fast ends with the Lesser Bayram. Unless one is attracted to the prospect of an hour shivering beneath the October rain, it is wise to set out for the mosque shortly after Sabah prayers, or even to stay in the mosque from Sabah until the Bayram Imam appears in splendour, an hour after sunrise. So I leave my house in Stygian darkness and walk through the silent streets of my ghetto district. The graffiti is just visible: PEST CONTROL CALL 538 244 7622. DOWN WITH FENERBAHCE. HE WHO LOVES ALLAH WILL NOT THROW HIS RUBBISH HERE. More decorously, high above the street, competing politicians wish us well. MAY YOUR BAYRAM BE BLESSED AND PROSPEROUS. (SALVATION PARTY). WE WISH YOU A MERRY BAYRAM. (REPUBLICAN PEOPLE’S PARTY). MAY YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES AND ALL OUR COUNTRY ENJOY A PEACEFUL AND PROFITABLE BAYRAM. (AK PARTY.)
Inside the mosque of Sultan Beyazit, popular with Sufi pietists as a mosque built only with entirely lawful funds, there is still room for me. In the mihrab, a hoca is giving us Surat al-Rahman in a local hadr style. The qafla is crisp, and the quarter-tones immaculate. This is good news, since we still have an hour to go. I notice that after every minute or so, the hoca pauses, while everyone in the mosque recites the Bayram takbir. He then reads a translation of his text. This audience participation means that the hoca’s voice must remain in a single maqam for an hour, and this he manages, in an austere performance that is entirely in keeping with the atmosphere of this restrained and ascetical building.
The Bayram Imam appears, and the men near the mihrab rise in respect. He reminds the congregation of the Hanafi traditions of the Bayram namaz, and then the great crowd is hushed in prayer. After the teslim, he ascends the minbar, one step at a time, until, after almost a minute, he is three steps from the summit. Here he bows briefly to the qibla, hand on heart, and then turns, to allow the voice of religion to fill the mosque, as it has done for a thousand Bayrams before. He speaks of the need to maintain the momentum of Ramadan, and not to leave compassion and worship behind as we travel onwards from the month.
After the khutba, in the courtyard of the mosque, many in the crowd have formed a circle beneath the colonnade. To the sound of the salat-i ummiyye, everyone moves around the circle, embracing everyone, until, reaching its end, they stand in their turn. The procedure takes a long time; but it is voluntary, so I find a side exit, and re-enter the now busy streets. Shops are closed, but buses and trams are free for the three days of the holiday, and many Stambullus are already beginning the round of visits to friends and relations which lie at the heart of this family festival.
That evening, high above the eastern minarets of Sultanahmet, the sky writing reads Elveda: Farewell.
Reflections on the Turkish earthquake, 1999
[Text from a lecture given at the “From Mekka to Madina” Conference, London, 28th August 1999]
In Surat al-Furqan, Allah tells us:
‘The Messenger said: My Lord, my people have taken this Qur’an as something abandoned.’
Perhaps this could be the epitaph of the traditional Islamic world. Many Muslims still adhere to aspects of the Qur’anic message; but there seem to be whole sections of the revelation which we read, formally, but fail to digest.
A little later in the same sura we come to one of these forgotten Qur’anic themes. The text reads:
‘And We gave Musa the book, and appointed with him his brother Harun as a supporter. Then We said: Go together unto the people who have denied Our signs. Then We destroyed them, with a destruction that was complete.’
‘And Nuh’s people, when they denied the Messengers; We drowned them, and made of them a sign for mankind. We have prepared a painful punishment for those who work injustice.’
‘And the tribes of Ad, and Thamud, and the dwellers of al-Rass, and many generations in between.’
‘To each of them We coined parables; and each of them We destroyed without a trace.’
We have read these verses many times. And we know that they were addressed, the first time they were heard on earth, to the heathen of Quraysh, as a warning. Earlier nations who had denied God’s signs were swept away by His punishment. If they persisted in denying sayyidina Muhammad (s) they were opening themselves up to the same possibility.
Allah has names of Beauty: the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Gentle, and many others. But He also has Names of Rigour: the Overwhelming, the Just, the Avenger. The world in which we live exists as the interaction and the manifestation of all of the divine attributes. Hence it is a place of ease and of hardship, of joy and of sorrow. It has to be this way: a world in which there was only ease could not be a place in which we can discover ourselves to be true human beings. It is only by experiencing hardship, and loss, and bereavement, and disease, that we rise above our egos, and show that we can live for others, and for principles, rather than only for ourselves.
A feature of this world, this dunya, is therefore the existence of catastrophe. Sometimes this catastrophe takes the form of a test: in which case it may be a gift. At other times, however, it may take the form of a punishment. The dunya is, as the athar states, ‘the prison of the believer, and the paradise of the kafir.’ But sometimes Allah’s anger at the repeated and scornful denial of His signs can lead to a sudden snatching away of the delights of this world.
One of the early Muslims said:
‘Know that when one of Allah’s servants sins against Him, He deals with him leniently. Should he sin again, He conceals this for him. But should he don its garments, then Allah conceives against him such wrath as the very heavens and the earth could not compass, neither the mountains, the trees, nor the animals; what man could then withstand such wrath?’ One of the purposes of the Qur’an is to explain to us the risks involved in rejecting the will of Allah. If we obey our Creator, and respect His attributes, and emulate those attributes to the extent and in the way that is appropriate for us, we become like Adam and Hawwa, upon them be peace. We are restored to the fitra, to the primordial norm of our species. And we gain our designed place as Allah’s khalifas over the natural order.
However, if we turn our backs on the source of our being, if we face the blackness of space rather than the sun, if we reject infinite unity and prefer infinite multiplicity, we have become anti-khalifas; or rather, we have become the khalifas of Iblis, not of Allah. We acquire the attributes of Iblis: so that like him we become deceivers, liars, cowards, lovers of dirt and impurity, cynical advocates of empty pleasures.
To reject our God-given status as khulafa of our Maker, and to accept a position as khulafa of Iblis, alayhi’l-la‘na, is hence to deny our own humanity. We share in his primordial sin: like him, we refuse to acknowledge Adam, that luminous saint before whom even the angels must bow down. Instead, we prostrate ourselves before our own whims, our own desires, our own all-too-fallible judgements. A-ra’ayta man ittakhada ilahahu hawah, says the Qur’an:
‘have you seen the one who takes his own passions to be his god?’
Violating the normality of our kind is a crime against the one who designed that normality, and a denial of His wisdom and artistry. And this violation can also render us vulnerable to the inherently rigorous forces of nature.
It is of God’s mercy, and a proof of His providence, that any life can exist at all. Were our planet to be a little further from the sun, or a little closer, it would be uninhabitable. Were the sun’s rays to be of a slightly different composition, they would be lethal. Were our planet a little bit smaller, it could not retain the atmosphere necessary to preserve life. If it were bigger, the force of gravity would ensure that the atmosphere would include not only oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, but also heavier, poisonous gases, like ammonia. The small size of the planet allows these gases to escape.
The laws of physics themselves disclose what scientists can only refer to as fine-tuning. One astrophysicist, Paul Davies, has calculated that so finely balanced is the force of gravity against electromagnetic energy that an adjustment of only one part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 would ‘spell catastrophe for stars like the sun.’ Reflecting on the relative strengths of physical forces in the cosmos, Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most famous physicist of our time, has pointed out ‘the remarkable fact that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.’
In fact, the Qur’an tell us that ‘in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the succession of night and day, are signs for those who possess an inner core.’ We gaped in astonishment recently at just one of these signs: the total eclipse of the sun that was visible in Cornwall. Few secular commentators remarked upon the inherent strangeness of the eclipse phenomenon: on only one planet in our solar system can one see the sun and the moon – or a moon – as being of exactly equal size. And that planet is our own. Clearly, as the hadith indicate, an eclipse is a tremendous sign of God, which appeals to our intuition, to tell us that the universe itself exists to provide us with signs – reminders – of the Creator’s glory, which awaken our spirits from distraction.
The marvellous constancy of this creation, however, which makes human life possible, exists on a condition. The house is well-maintained by the landlord on condition that the tenant pays the rent. And the only rent that our own, generous, Landlord asks for is that we acknowledge and thank Him. And He only asks us for this for our own benefit. He is al-Nafi‘ and al-Darr, the source of benefit and of harm; we can neither benefit nor harm Him. He is al-Ghani: the Independent.
It’s a good deal; and how could one expect anything else from the Lord of the Worlds? All we have to do is to thank Him; and in our own, Islamic covenant, we have a formal way of doing this five times a day. When we fail to do this, our hearts are dirtied, we are in a state of imbalance, and we open ourselves up to calamity.
A number of hadiths indicate ways in which specific forms of the rejection of Allah’s providence can make us vulnerable to breakdowns in the system of protection which Allah has built into the cosmos. One of these, whose applicability has become painfully obvious in the last two decades, is narrated by Imam Malik, and refers to the consequences of the rejection of normal, Sunna practices of marriage and reproduction:
‘Never does sexual immorality appear among a people, to the extent that they make it public, without there appearing amongst them plagues and agonies unknown to their forefathers.’
With perhaps a hundred thousand people in the United Kingdom carrying the HIV virus, an infection with particularly hideous consequences, the warning could not be more clear. It is not that AIDS is a punishment for consuming drugs or for sex outside marriage: that is too crude a view. Instead, the hadith indicates that the Sunna is a protection for our kind, which preserves us from breakdowns in the body’s defence systems. And any student of medicine will be aware of the extraordinary complexity of the human immune system: the titanic battles fought between pathogens and antibodies throughout our lives, in every cell of our bodies. To the extent that we deny the Sunna, we unbalance that system, and catastrophe follows.
Individual human beings can open themselves up to tragedy in this way. Sometimes, when misfortune strikes, it is not easy to see whether it is a trial from Allah, or a chastisement, or simply the consequence of violating the natural way which is the Sunna. Sometimes it is a combination of these things. But it is not only individuals to whom calamities may come. Whole human collectivities are also at risk.
Much of the recent history of the Umma can be understood as the simple consequence of ghafla – of heedlessness of Allah ta‘ala. The Ottoman empire, for instance, is a good example. By Allah’s decree and permission, this state continued for an astonishing six hundred years or more, from 1280 until 1924. In fact, the Ottoman sultans were the longest-reigning of any significant dynasty in world history. No family, in China, India, Europe or anywhere else, ruled for so long. And the achievement is the more remarkable when we look at the size and the diversity of the empire. Many races, religions and languages were present; there was no obvious unifying criterion for all the sultan’s subjects; and yet the empire endured.
It is not difficult to see why Allah should have given the Ottoman state such success. The sultans always respected the ulema and the shuyukh: Sultan Mehmed, who liberated Constantinople from the Byzantine oppression, was the disciple of Ak Shamsuddin, himself of the lineage of Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, radiya’Llahu anhu. With such men to pray for them, the early sultans could hardly be defeated in battle. Another factor in Ottoman success was the insistence of the Ottoman ulema on tolerating differences of opinions among Muslims. All classical writers on Muslim political theory have taken to heart Imam al-Ghazali’s insistence that the Muslims are never served by attempts to impose one narrow definition of the faith on everyone else. That kind of totalitarian approach results only in hatred and civil war, bringing misery and weakness to the Muslim community.
The Ottoman demise resulted not from the adoption of a narrow definition of Islam that set Muslim against Muslim, but from a thoughtless Westernisation among the ruling classes. Adopting the materialism of Western Europe, the Ottoman nobility and middle classes began to abandon the Sunna. The turban began to disappear, followed by the remainder of Muslim dress. Houses began to be designed to bring the sexes together, rather than to separate them. The mosques in rich sections of town emptied, except on Fridays. And the high men of the state, with some exceptions, were increasingly reluctant to ask the great ulema for their prayers.
The Ottoman empire ended, effectively, with the First World War. Sultan Abd al-Hamid had been overthrown by a Westernising clique which then decided to bring the empire into the war which ended in its dismemberment. If the Ottomans had remained loyal to the Sunna, and hence avoided injustice, bribery, and weakness on the field of battle, the Ottoman state would in all probability be in existence today, and its model of an Islam which tolerates diversity would still prevail, instead of the nervous, intolerant little groups which fill the Islamic scene today.
The principle which underlies all this is not controversial among Muslims. If we forget Allah, He will forget us: ‘forget us’ in the sense of not protecting us from misfortune. The world, where it is not held in order by the hand of Allah, is pure chaos; and in such chaos human beings cannot survive for an instant. They are suddenly overwhelmed by plagues, like the plagues of Egypt, or by poisonous winds, or floods.
On 16 September 1999, Dr Klaus Topfer, head of the UN Environment Programme, announced that ‘indications are that it is too late to prevent global warming.’ The steady increase in hurricanes, in particular, is a sign that the international protocols on greenhouse gas emission are not adequate, even where they are obeyed. Topfer’s gloomy predictions are now generally shared: the world environment is ruined, and will deteriorate further even in the unlikely event that Californians stop driving cars, or China closes its power stations.
The current crisis in the world’s environment is, of course, only to be understood religiously. Global warming, depletion of the rainforests, the failure of the monsoon, hormone pollution, male sterility, acid rain, BSE, desertification, and a myriad of other planet-threatening calamities can be easily explained, from our perspective as Muslims, as the consequences of not paying the rent. We are taking more from the world than ever before, greedily digging up its most inaccessible resources, sucking up oil from under the North Sea and the Alaskan tundra, mining uranium from deserts in Namibia, squeezing iron ore from inaccessible corners of Mauretania: the sheer quantity of Allah’s bounty should astonish us. And yet the more we gobble it up, the less we thank the source of these resources. When an oil well is finally depleted, humanity does not burp, and say, ‘Al-hamdu li’llah.’
We are not paying the rent, and so the Landlord, subhanahu wa-ta‘ala, sees no reason to maintain the property. Why should He? Out of His astonishing mercy, he keeps oxygen in the air, and fresh water in the rivers, so that the earth supports six billion people, and comparatively few starve. But as we guzzle more, and reflect less, this generosity cannot go on forever. The signs of decay in the world’s environment are already giving concern to the materialistic superpowers: not because they deeply care about being good gardeners in God’s creation, but because the only thing they really care about – the economy – may in the longer term be at risk.
From what I have said, it should be clear that Allah’s rahma does not exclude the possibility of calamities on earth. As the Qur’an says,kataba ala nafsihi ’r-Rahma: He has prescribed rahma upon Himself. However, although the Rahman is in a sense first among the divine qualities, there are others; and one of these is al-Adl, the Just, while another is al-Muntaqim, the Avenger.
Recently in Turkey we witnessed a calamity which we have to regard as a manifestation of this divine name. Perhaps forty thousand died. Others may still die, as the secular Turkish state struggles pathetically to provide shelter and medical care for two hundred thousand homeless who are now at risk from cholera and typhoid, thanks to the strange, unseasonable rain and miserable weather which have followed the quake.
It is a terrible thing. Imam Musa Memis, one of the heroes of the relief work, is an imam from the afflicted region. He estimates that he and his team of imams have buried over twenty thousand people. And still the trucks come rumbling in, filled with mangled remains chiselled from the ruins by the rescue teams.
If you drive now from the southern suburbs of Istanbul, towards Adapazari and Izmit, seventy miles away, you will not see a single modern house or block of flats left standing. The hand of God has swept all away.
Secular explanations are of course easily at hand. Northwest Turkey has always been an earthquake zone. However, secularists, who in Turkey are many and virulent, have to acknowledge one thing. In Ottoman times, earthquakes claimed comparatively few lives. This was for a very simple reason. The Ottomans belonged to the land: they knew it, including its occasional tendency to thrash about, and they built for it.
Those who have visited Sarajevo, or Mostar, or the other cities of Bosnia tortured by months of bombardment, may have noticed a remarkable thing. Modern buildings made of prestressed concrete need only a tap with a mortar shell to bring them down like a pack of cards. But the Ottoman buildings are astoundingly resilient. A large-calibre artillery shell can go through a dome, or clean through one of those pencil-thin minarets, and the structure remains absolutely sound. So the Serbs poured more than 150,000 shells on Sarajevo, and almost all of the mosques of the old city are still serviceable. But walk out of the old town and into the modern quarter, and there is absolute devastation, stretching like a concrete sea in all directions. No-one lives there now, except the rats.
The Turks knew how to build: for a reason. They came from a country prone to earthquakes. Their buildings are incredibly strong. During the 1961 earthquake which flattened the Macedonian capital of Skopje, killing 20,000 people, observers watched with astonishment as the minarets, seemingly the flimsiest buildings in the world, danced and undulated like snakes, and then settled down again, pointing to the heavens, while the rest of the city, built under Tito, collapsed with a roar.
In 1878, when the Russian army occupied the cities of Bulgaria, they experienced enormous difficulties in demolishing the mosques. In Sofia, the capital, they had to wait until there was a midnight thunderstorm, and then they detonated giant charges of dynamite in the mosques to bring them down. The local people mistook the sound for thunder, and did not come out to defend their mosques until, for the first time in five centuries, they failed to hear the adhan for fajr.
In Turkey itself, today, the newest structures have proved the most flimsy. The ancient buildings are generally safe and sound. The Orhan Ghazi mosque in Izmid, dating from the early fourteenth century, is apparently largely unscathed. The traditional wooden houses are virtually all safe, and those who lived in them are still alive. I was once myself in an earthquake in Turkey, just thirty miles from Izmit. But I was in an old Ottoman house: the house groaned and squeaked for a minute, but it was quite unharmed.
There is, then, a secular culprit. Or rather, a class of them. They are those Turkish city planners who, following the destruction of the Ottoman caliphate, insisted on changing the face of Turkey. Just as it was a criminal offence in Ataturk’s Turkey to wear a turban, so also the state insisted on the abandonment of traditional Turkish building methods. They had to be replaced by European, specifically German norms. Hence those rows of dismal, grey buildings in modern Turkish cities which have nothing to do with Turkey. Their spiritual and engineering roots are in Germany: and Germany is not in an earthquake zone.
The Ottomans, a proud Islamic people who believed in their own traditions, insisted on architecture which could survive an earthquake which might not come for a hundred years. The modern secular Turk, however, thinks only for the moment. Not only does he not give a thought to the eternity which is beyond death: he fails to think about the world his descendents might inhabit, or the safety of his own children. He thinks of image: of the pathetic delight of making his cities look more European, and he thinks of profit. No longer do most Turks live in extended houses, with gardens, in the delightful surroundings which so impressed nineteenth-century visitors to Turkey. They are cramped together in grey, gardenless flats. And they are no longer even safe.
So we can say that there is human responsibility here. The rulers of the region in a sense brought this down on their own people’s heads. Their greed for profit, and their silly desire to ape the West, massively worsened the impact of this tragedy.
Yet as Muslims we would insist that there is something deeper at work. Nothing occurs in the world, not even a leaf dropping from a tree, that Allah is not fully aware of, and that He has not decreed. And His decrees have meaning.
What was it that that man of the Salaf said?
‘Know that when one of Allah’s servants sins against Him, He deals with him leniently. Should he sin again, He conceals this for him. But should he don its garments, then Allah conceives against him such wrath as the very heavens and the earth could not compass, neither the mountains, the trees, nor the animals; what man could then withstand such wrath?’
The earthquake was a test, no doubt. But it was also a fearsome expression of the Divine name al-Muntaqim, the Avenger. The same name under which the divine action confronted Fir‘awn, and the peoples of Ad, Thamud, Madyan and ar-Rass.
The people of that corner of Turkey had, as the athar puts it, donned the garments of sin. Izmit, forty years ago a beautiful, sleepy town of believers, had become a grimy, greedy industrial city where the beer consumption was higher than almost anywhere in Europe. The lottery, the piyango, is a curse upon Turkish society, encouraging the idea that one can get rich without work. But in that corner of the country it was more popular than anywhere else. Pornography was rife. I was once on a bus outside Yalova, the now totally destroyed coastal city, and the bus driver seemed to spend the entire journey watching the video player, which had been located specifically to enable to driver to watch. And what was being shown was hard-core pornography! To a busfull of normal travellers, including women and children. I saw one man look rather amused by it, but no-one seemed shocked.
The coastline was filled with casinos, bars, and discos, where one could spend one’s entire life, and several fortunes, in total self-indulgence. Formerly one could swim, in predictably mixed beaches, but few now dare since the sea of Marmara has become one of the most lethally polluted bodies of water in the world. The mosques are empty, except for Jum‘a prayers. Most of the population, in short, is in a frenzy for the dunya. The sense of serenity and hospitality, and sheer simple happiness, which was once normal among Muslim Turks, has almost vanished. Greed, selfishness, and misery are the norm.
In the mosques around that fault line there was nobody on his knees praying for protection. But in the larger society there was also much that was rotten, and that openly defied Allah subhanahu wa-ta‘ala.
Last year the military sacked a duly-elected Islamic government. The Western media, of course, supposedly so loud in its defence of democracy, hardly raised a squeak of protest. More recently, the excellent schools and humanitarian organisations of the scholar Fethullah Gülen have been subject to intolerable official pressure. Laws against the wearing of hijab in universities and government offices are being strictly enforced. Throughout the country, Islam, however moderate and gentle, is being subjected to what we can only describe as persecution. The country is turned viciously against itself: it is committing cultural suicide.
Even secular Turks acknowledge that the Islamic groups are the only remaining repository of honesty left in the country. Municipalities controlled by the Muslims, such as Konya, Urfa and Istanbul itself, have been cleansed of bribery, sleaze, and laziness. In Turkey, the Islamic political experiment, which seeks, after all, no more than the revival of the country’s indigenous values, has been morally vindicated in every area in which it has been allowed to operate. But the response of the secular elite has been predictably crude: arrests, suppression of newspapers, the banning of political parties.
We may speculate that the long-term consequence will be the emergence of extremism. Turkish Islam at present is not extreme. In Turkey, it is secularity that is extreme. Just take the example of the Kurds. Under the Islamic order, the Kurds were peacefully tolerated as fellow-Muslims. Under the Turkish nationalist order, the Kurds find their position unbearable.
So to advocate Islamisation in Turkey is to oppose extremism. It is also to oppose levels of corruption that now stink unbearably.
In any case, it is to my mind no coincidence that the earthquake struck when and where it did. It wiped out Turkey’s secular heartland. And it took place following monstrous, demonic moves for the further persecution of religion and the denial of basic Muslim rights.
Let me repeat what I have been saying. It is too crude a view to regard a tragedy such as this earthquake as a straightforward divine punishment. The Islamic view is more subtle. We believe that the overwhelming forces of nature are only kept in check by Allah. Without His providence, our pathetic bodies would survive not for one instant amid the titanic powers of the universe.
But when we forget His providence, we become vulnerable. We are, as the people of Izmit discovered, on shaky ground.
Abu Hurayra radiya’Llahu anhu said:
The Prophet, salla’Llahu alayhi wa-sallam said: ‘The Hour shall not come until knowledge is taken away, and earthquakes become common, and time is always too short, and trials appear, and killing is widespread, and until wealth becomes so abundant that it is superfluous.’ (Bukhari)
We are all vulnerable. Particularly in these times. This is an age of forgetfulness and sadness, and we need remembrance and joy. Wa-man a‘rada an dhikri fa-inna lahu ma‘ishatan danka , the Qur’an says: ‘whoever turns aside from remembering Me, he shall have a miserable life’. The modern world claims to progress: but people have longer faces than ever before. Antidepressant drugs have never been more widely prescribed. 17 percent of British women attempt suicide by the age of 25. We work longer hours than ever before; and our home lives and our marriages have never been under such pressure.
Modernity serves only the idol of money: it does not serve human beings. We have turned away from the unitive Source, towards the rubble at the edges of existence: and we are sad. We are hungry. We know that we need what all human beings have always needed: the remembrance of Allah. And yet the modern world tells us that that is nowhere on the list of priorities.
We have forgotten, so we have been forgotten. The modern world is fast asleep, troubled by dreams of material pleasures that somehow are not really pleasurable.
When we forget who we are, so radically, the protection begins to be withdrawn, and we are at the mercy of the material world, which we now trust and love more than we trust and love God. And the people of Turkey have learnt how much the material world, the earth, can help us, when we forget to acknowledge its divine source. And when we forget to give thanks for it.
In Surat al-Mulk we are told, patiently:
‘Are you confident that He who is in heaven will not cause the earth to cave in beneath you and to be swallowed up by it as it shakes?
Or are you confident that He who is in heaven will not loose against you a whirlwind? You will before long known how was My warning.’
So the conclusion is inescapable. We who are not paying the rent for our planet are now paying heavy fines instead.
But the Landlord is merciful.
His mercy is expressed, despite our waywardness, in so many ways. There is the hadith, for instance, that states that whoever dies tahta al-radm, under fallen masonry, is a shaheed, a martyr. So those who have died so horribly in Turkey can be considered shuhada. Many ulema there have confirmed this judgement.
Another expression of His mercy is that in the next life, those who acknowledged Him shall know no more earthquakes. A hadith in Abu Daud says:
‘This my Umma is an Umma which receives mercy: for it has no punishment in the akhira. Its punishment is in this dunya: strife, earthquakes, and killing.’
The Landlord is merciful. Through the signs which He sets up in creation: eclipses, earthquakes, tornadoes, blue skies: He reminds us patiently of His glory. And of our origin and return.
Allah subhanahu wa ta‘ala is qabil al-tawb: the acceptor of penitence. Innahu kana bi’l-awwabina ghafura: He is ever Forgiving of those who turn to Him. Faced with the evidence of His overpowering might, and of His power to remove His protection from the violence of nature, our hearts tremble. And in this there lies our hope. Allah himself says, in a Hadith Qudsi: ‘Son of Adam! So long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. Son of Adam! were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. Son of Adam! Were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness like unto it.’ [Tirmidhi] The divine name al-Hafiz, the Protector, is the one we seek refuge in against the name al-Muntaqim, the Avenger. This is the meaning of the Prophetic du‘a –A‘udhu bika mink: ‘I seek Your protection from You.’
A man once came to Ibn Mas‘ud, radiya’Llahu anh, and asked him: I have repeatedly committed a major sin – can there be any repentance for me? Ibn Mas‘ud turned away, and the man saw that his eyes had filled with tears. He said: ‘Paradise has eight gates, and each one of them is sometimes open and sometimes shut. With the exception of the Gate of Repentance, which is held open eternally by an angel who never leaves that place. So do not despair!’
One of the early Muslims used to say that ‘Repentance is like becoming a Muslim again.’
We need to find shelter in the Divine protection. And the road back to that place is called tawba. For the surviving people of Turkey, and for the world. We need to repent of our frenzied enthusiasm for the mechanical pleasures of today’s world. Watching the disgusting exhibitions of human egos on television while our neighbours are lonely is not the way of Muslims. A hadith tells us that the Muslim is not he who sleeps well-fed while his neighbour is hungry.
Life today, in places like secular Turkey no less than here, has become a kind of amble from one pleasure to the next. One collects pleasurable experiences, and then muses over them in retirement. And life is nothing else. This state of ghafla, of forgetfulness, is the source of every sin. And the first step in overcoming it has to be muhasaba.
Muhasaba is a term in the Sunna:
‘Call yourselves to account before you yourselves are called to account.’
And the ulema say that the first step in tawba is muhasaba. We need, as individuals and as societies, to stop gobbling for a moment, and to think about how we have recently spent our time. At the end of each day, to take a minute looking back, to see what we would rather forget. And when we see those things, the desire for tawba begins.
We ask Allah subhanahu ta‘ala to grant us the gift of tawba, for us here, and for all Muslims.
May He forgive us our weaknesses and our secret faults, and our laziness in serving Him.
May He grant us love and brotherhood for one another, and give us the blessing of common action against what threatens us all.
May He empty our hearts of suspicion and pride, and of the love of dispute, and unite us in the service of Islam and the Muslims.