Is a Body/Soul Dichotomy Inevitable for Muslims in the West?
By Bilal Malik
From advertisements of new, essentially better, products and services on television and radio targeted for every age group, the sexualization of society through television programs that reduce humans to mere animal impulses, the misogyny, violence, crime, nihilism, intoxication, anarchy, the normalization of sexual perversion and many other vices being praised through the ever-invasive music industry, to the incredibly biased nature of the news media furthering agendas of a few at the expense of truth itself, brainwashing the masses by employing different techniques of propaganda. The constant barrage of seductive messages the average Muslim receives in his or her day in the form of the internet, television, radio, the news media in all its variations, music in its myriad of genres and almost ineludible forms, does beg the question, is physical/spiritual schizophrenia inevitable for Muslims living in western lands? This does not however negate the unfortunate: that these media are just as effective anywhere in the world including the Muslim lands–but that is not what is being discussed here. By “seductive” I don’t necessarily mean provocative, rather messages that are tempting in nature. Messages designed to stimulate the sensoria, those which evoke a response, usually to consume, nevertheless having a profound effect on the human soul.
Not removed from the overwhelming nature of modern-day media, we are also confronted with cultural issues which can lead to a sort of dichotomy within the minds of Muslims in western lands. We have, for example, in the modern workplace the reality of the intermingling of genders. Although this has become a widespread practice and almost a norm, even in Muslim societies, the breakdown of the family unit is critical to this, and is primarily a western phenomenon. This disintegration of “family” has forced even Muslim mothers to become “gainfully” employed in order to sustain certain self-imposed standards of living and to feed the insatiable desire for more–a desire held mutually but not limited to the fathers–thus rendering the primary caregiver of the young, the one at least co-responsible for tarbiyyah, absent.
Muslims are faced with, in western lands other issues, one of which is that of the consumption of impure food. Aside from the detrimental physical effects of mass-produced food, we have a problematic situation on our hands when most of the products in the grocery-store aisle, contain ingredients, the source of which most Muslims simply are of, ignorant. How much food being consumed by Muslims is in fact impure? We simply don’t know.
When one looks at the adaptive nature of human beings with their psychological mechanisms which justify ideas and actions–irrespective of their ultimate reality in terms of good or bad–to maintain a false yet functional state of emotional equilibrium, the concern deepens. This adaptive human nature coupled with the bombardment of suggestive images, words, and sounds in the average Muslim’s day living in western lands, is unnerving even when looked upon solely from the aspect of consciousness–for the sub-conscious effects of such a combination are overwhelming. One of the many such sub-conscious changes or adjustments that is most easily detectable is a progressive corrosion of religious scruples, the seemingly slow yet constant tumbling down of the wall that separates right from wrong. I wish not to go in to specific examples as I was told not to magnify the faults of the Ummah, and I leave what would be termed ‘constructive criticism’ to the ‘Ulema [scholars], the heirs of the Prophets.
A dark mental picture is indeed painted when one takes the above in to consideration. But to return to the question of the inevitability of a dichotomy between body and soul, the answer is simply, no. We must construct and develop our Muslim identity within western lands by ensuring complete adherence to the Sacred Law. Any compromise on Shari`ah will leave us both literally and linguistically abandoned in the sea of mass-information. As is beautifully delineated by Anas Coburn in his paper entitled Muslim Identity in Postmodern America, we must combine both outward and inward fiqh, to overcome this onslaught of modern-day media.
Unfortunately there exists in the western countries a lack of indigenous scholarship which has a nuanced understanding of the complexities of the modern world–which is primarily why we must seek to establish our own institutions which produce home-grown scholars. We must return to seeking sacred knowledge, deeply and sincerely. Also, we must view ourselves as pioneers, and establish an identity at the center of which is the idea of Dawah both in word and more importantly in deed.
May Allah give us the tawfiq to adhere completely to the Sacred Law, to learn and practice both the outward and inward aspects of the Din, to make Dawah our intention in the western lands, and to forgive us for our myriad of shortcomings and accept us in to the highest ranks of Paradise. Aameen.
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