A couple of weeks ago, Sidi Abdi informed a group of us that the first thing he noticed about South Africans when he arrived in the country is how much we complain. And I was quite ashamed because I recognized that to be true. And this has been a bit of a sensitivity of mine ever since. I must just say that I’m finding this a reasonably standard human thing in this age.
We all complain – bitterly. Our introductory statement in anything is disapproval about something, rather than praise of something. So, last night I was sitting on a plane coming back home, and the man sitting next to me – a very likable looking Afrikaans man – and he shook my hand in greeting. And within two minutes he had spoken about Zuma and the catastrophe of the ANC. And I looked at this man in complete disbelief.
And I quoted Abdi’s words to him. I said, “You know I have a mate who’s Somali. He mentioned this thing: he noticed that South Africans complain bitterly. And I used an Afrikaans euphemism, I said, [translation]: “We complain with the white bread under the arm.”
And this man looks at me and he says, “You know, you’re absolutely right. We must stop complaining.” And then he proceeded in exactly the same tone for the next hour, and complained.
So it’s like he didn’t even hear. So I looked at this man in complete disbelief. I was amazed.
So what is it about our condition that biases our internal and our external discourse towards disapproval?
This seems to be partly our conditioning.
Our introductory statement in anything is disapproval about something, rather than praise of something.
You must understand that every time you disapprove of the world, you’re not saying anything about the world, you’re saying something about yourself. Because when you disapprove of the other, you are confirming yourself as higher and different, and separate from and distinct from. So you’re actually concretizing, you’re enforcing the boundaries of your nafs. You are making yourself exist as an individual. You’re making your boundaries hard.
Now this doesn’t mean to say that you have to forgive and excuse all craziness that goes on around you. But to look at the Totality of what goes on around you and deem that crazy has to be inaccurate.
How many things have to spontaneously go right so that you can take your next breath? How many things could spontaneously go wrong that would stop you from taking your next breath?
So, why do things go right?
So, whenever we complain, we have to, by definition be looking at a sub-set of the truth. Which basically means, we’re doing violence to the truth.
The human being who can speak and walk and who complains is doing violence to the truth. Because it cannot be the truth of the matter. It cannot be the truth of the matter that there’s more harm, damage than what there is good, because if there were more harm than good, then you could not be alive. Logically, you could not be alive.
There has to be more blessing.
We also don’t seem to appreciate that by repeating in ourselves, this comment, this negative comment and repeating it to each other, we are as guilty of undermining the social fabric of the world around us as the people we’re accusing.
The human being who can speak and walk and who complains is doing violence to the truth.
You have to understand that every time you deem the world around you catastrophically broken, you are as much part of the brokenness as the person who’s catastrophically breaking it. Like the corrupt official who’s taking money, like this teacher who comes drunk to school. We’re party to the illness. You would say, “How is that possible? Why is that the case?”
Because things only reconstruct on the basis of a generous intent; on the basis of a kindness.
How can a negation construct anything? By definition, negation destructs. So, if you don’t look at the world around you, if you don’t have a deep kindness in your heart towards the world around you, whatever you do will confirm that it’s broken because it will break it further.
Now, how do you find that deep kindness? It is impossible to find the deep kindness if you don’t find something to affirm; if you don’t find something to say yes to. In this country, we’ve got so much to say yes to. Let’s not forget that people were storing up baked beans in ’94.
It is impossible to find the deep kindness if you don’t find something to affirm.
You know, there’s another thing I told this crazy fellow in the plane last night, “You know those baked beans are still probably sitting in your attic.” You know the country is still here and there’s been extraordinary sacrifice. Both by the establishment of the eighties and the current establishment. Both did extraordinary things to gift us the situation, the blessing that we have. What do we do? We complain about it.
Let’s not forget that in the mid-eighties, looking forward, there were very few South Africans who could see a way out of this. All of us saw catastrophic civil war, and complete implosion – an irresolvable problem. We’re still here. Still drive to work. We still have businesses. We still can feed our family. Kids still go to school. They might not be as good as they used to be. But, there still are schools. You can still have a life.
So rather than looking at the few crazies who are breaking a little bit now, let’s think about the long run up – the, at least 25 years of run-up to this thing that’s produced the fact that we don’t have a civil war. We didn’t have a civil war. There’s always more to affirm than there is to negate but you’ve got to take a longer view. When you’re looking at the thing in immediacy you can always find a blemish. “Oo you’ve got a pimple, oo you grew a beard, oo you didn’t cut your beard.” There’s always something to complain about when you’re looking now.
But you’ve got to take a longer view; you’ve got to see where this thing has come from. And you’ve got to recognize in where this thing’s come from what the various alternatives were.
You must understand that every time you disapprove of the world, you’re not saying anything about the world, you’re saying something about yourself.
I think ten percent of possibilities would have put us in a better place than where we are now, as a nation. Ninety percent of situations would have put us in worse situations than where we are now, if your starting point is 1980. So, why are we complaining?
If we don’t have the magnanimity to affirm, we don’t have the energy to contribute constructively. We can only destroy. So we then become as guilty of the bad citizenship as the people that are corrupt. We’re just doing it with clean hands. But the inner disease is the same.
Any person who is corrupt, what is he saying? He’s saying, “I’m owed something. I’ve been done in.”
And why is he saying that? He’s saying, “I’ve not been given enough.” It’s as much an attribute of disapproval and ingratitude as us whingeing in other situations. He’s just taken a step further; he’s done something about it. But understand that the disease sits in the same place. It’s an intent disease. And it’s an intent disease that is an attribute of a lack of magnanimity; a lack of ability to affirm; a lack of kindness.
If we’re citizens in this country, we have a moral obligation to have a good opinion of it. And if it’s so deeply impossible for us to have a good opinion of it, we should move somewhere else. Allah says He’s not…you know you can do hijra. You are enjoined to do hijra if you’re in an impossible situation. The place is so impossible, there’s nothing good that can be said about it, then go somewhere else. There’s an entire planet. You can go to the other side of the planet in the blink of an eye today. But while you’re here, find something about this place to love and make that the principle issue. Make that the predominant theme. Make that the predominant theme of how you think about the place and how you talk about the place.
You cannot construct on the basis of negation.
It is based on the love of the parent that the parent’s discipline of the child is constructive to the child and is helpful to the child. If that thing changes – if the parent has hate towards the child – then the discipline of the parent becomes a destructive thing.
So it is in any relationship. If you don’t love the thing, you don’t have license to intervene because when you intervene you’re only destroying.
Now this isn’t just true for us as a nation. This is true for the human condition in this age. And it’s partly because we live in a mass world. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by statistics.
If you’re living in Pakistan, there’s a 150 million people in Pakistan. How can I change the world?
If you’re living in the UK, there’s 66 million of them. More than half of them don’t even believe in God. How can I change the world?
Our path is about nothing other than good opinion.
But this is the tyranny of statistics. As a Pakistani, you don’t sit with a 150 million people in your sitting room. You sit with your immediate family and with your guest and with your friend. Be constructive and affirming to that person. Help that person make sense of the world around themselves so that they can do something constructive in that world. Speak in such a way that person has a good opinion. They walk out the door, feeling, “But life isn’t miserable.” Rather than being a further pump of darkness into the already ruined heart.
So it’s not about being the one who changes the 150 million, because you’re never confronted with the 150 million. It’s the one who refuses to be defined by the illusion of a 150 million, and always confirms what is practically real, which is only ever the room that you’re in, the situation that you’re in, the people you immediately deal with. That’s all you ever have to deal with. You never have to deal with a 150 million people.
We also forget that this thing that I’m referring to is the heart of the struggle of our path. Our path is about nothing other than good opinion. If it’s not about good opinion then I don’t understand this path. Then I certainly understand our wird. Let’s remind ourselves, what is our wird about?
We start off with Istighfar. And what it’s saying is, “Allah cover me”. And basically, it’s not saying “I’ve been a bad man or bad person, forgive me.” It’s saying, “Relieve me of myself for a while. Relieve me of my illusion that I exist as a separate individual. Relieve me of my ongoing noise of negation that makes me suffer the illusion that I exist as a separate individual.”
Astaghfirullah. Like, “Cover me with a blanket so I don’t exist. So, I’m just like part of the carpet. I’m not there.” Cover me.” Istighfar means, “Cover me.” So, it’s much deeper significance than just “Forgive me.”
And once you’ve done that Istighfar, once you’ve forgone your own boundaries, your own definitions and negations – because all your boundaries are based on negation – then what becomes apparent is Masha Allah. That what there is, is from Him.
Julius Malema is Allah’s creation. The corruption of our state is Allah’s creation. The world that you’re in is Allah’s creation. And if you recognize that and if you watch carefully enough then the logical next step is Subhan Allah.
After we do Masha Allah, Subhan Allah. In other words: “This is extraordinary, it’s praiseworthy, it’s something to be amazed at.” Subhan Allah!
Isn’t Subhan Allah how we express amazement and surprise? Subhan Allah. All glory to Him. In other words, it is glorious, it is glorious! It’s not just okay, it is glorious! It is amazing! It is gob-smacking! It is astonishing! This theater that He’s displaying to us every day. It’s amazing.
The logical next step after that in our wird is La illaha ilAllah. There is nothing other than Him. He is the Playwright; He’s the Puppeteer; He’s the Director. There’s none other than Him. The Only Genius there is.
And all the theater we see around us, including these funny aberrations like the (Julius) Malemas of the world and the nightmare of the Department of the Home Affairs – this is all part of His Theater.
This is all part of His Theater.
Did you manage to digest the breakfast that you had this morning? Of course, you managed to digest the breakfast that you had this morning, otherwise you’d be a sick man now. Home Affairs has nothing to do with that.
the essence of that engagement with Him is a love story.
How do you compare the value of your entire digestive tract working next to some bureaucrat who’s not shuffling a piece of paper as fast as he should in Home Affairs? So if you did the sum of your life and you did not equal on the other side of the sum an overwhelming side of blessing, you’re doing violence to the truth. Your wird is supposed to cultivate that inside you. And if your wird is not cultivating that inside, you’re not doing your wird with intention and proper attention.
As a final pointer to us, the wird is nothing other than a rephrasing and a slightly different experience of all of the other practices of the deen, and particularly salat.
Salat is a ritual enactment of Astaghfirulllah, Masha Allah, Subhan Allah, La illaha il Allah. Astaghfirullah — the takbeer. Masha Allah – reciting to yourself the blessings of the Lord of Quran. Subhan Allah – the rukoo. La illaha il Allah – the sajda.
For a person on this path, we’re in the business of happy endings.
It’s the same thing. Your deen is saying the same thing to you over and over and over and over again. Forgo for a moment your arrogance. Forgo for a moment your ongoing disapproval of the world you’re walking through and you would see that it is wondrous. It’s glorious. You would see that there’s none other than Him. That left, right, east, west, wherever you turn, there’s only Him. And that the essence of that engagement with Him is a love story. It’s not a horror show. How can it be a horror show if you’re still alive? If it were a horror show, it’s in the nature of that which is completely overwhelming to destroy you. So, why aren’t you destroyed?
So, it has to be a love story. Can’t be anything else.
So, for a person on this path, we’re in the business of happy endings. The kufaar are in the business of tragic endings. Because we know how to rescue the happy endings from the teeth of catastrophe. The last man standing, fighting bastion is overwhelmed, looks as if all is lost, gets the fatal arrow through his chest, dies with a smile on his face.
They can never govern your right to affirm life.
Whatever they do to you: they can imprison you, break your legs, hang you upside down by your toenails. They can torture you for a hundred years until you die. One freedom they can never take away from you is your right to define the character of the world around you. And that’s all that matters. Because all of us are going to end in the grave, including the Melemas of the world.
So what does matter? All that matters is your capacity to affirm the world. Nothing else matters.
May Allah grant us nearness to Him.
May He grant us annihilation in Him.
May He grant us death before we die.