The Beginning of Change
August 24, 2010 § 2 Comments
In my daily life I have found it difficult to balance my everyday concerns with concerns over my spiritual state and the life hereafter, something that many Muslims struggle with of course. When I do, however, take the time to reflect on my soul and my relationship with God, I evaluate my state in relation to common checklist items that are often cited as the proper tools to help reach an ideal level of religiosity and connection with Allah: prayer, fasting, giving money to the poor, being respectful to my parents and elders, asking for forgiveness from God, etc. These are the things which my mind naturally turns to when I think of striving to improve myself, and on the days I have given particular attention to my prayer or to extra good deeds, I often feel happier with the knowledge that I’ve at least made this day a good one with notable good deeds that will inshaAllah being me reward from the Most Merciful.
But recently I have begun to feel agitated internally because I’m realizing these checklist items are not enough. The items of course are of utmost importance, especially prayer, but I cannot be expected to reach higher levels of ihsan (goodness) if I have not evaluated every single aspect of my life, whether those aspects are overtly connected to religiosity or not. Actions cannot be evaluated in isolation of other actions, as many of the Prophet’s lessons have taught us (peace be upon him). So what have I left out? Well, I’m praying and extra sunnah prayers and donating some money to charity, I always try to serve my parents well and stay connected to my relatives, I fast, and I strive to remember Allah throughout the day. I seem to have much covered, or am at least conscious of the important things….right?
But after all of that, after I pray that prayer in the mosque, leave my change in the donation box, say ‘salaam’ to a community member…… I stroll to my Toyota sporting my Tommy Hilfiger Jeans, get in and drive to my middle class suburban neighbourhood that is close to that sprawling North American mall I like to visit to buy more stuff that I ‘need’. Of course these objects I surround myself by are technically within the realm of the halal, and there’s no harm in enjoying the bounties God has bestowed upon me to a certain degree. I do try to keep in mind that as a North American, I live a very materialistic lifestyle. But materialism isn’t necessarily the source of my internal agitation and discomfort. I should say, rather, that it is not the only source. In the West, we live in extreme wealth and consume 80% of the world’s resources. After having lived abroad I have come to see that what I think middle class means isn’t middle class at all. In relative terms, I live like a queen and bask in luxuries beyond the imagination of the majority of the world’s population. I have to always remind myself that I misuse the word ‘need’ when I should actually be using the word ‘want’, telling myself to be content with the fact that I have enough – too much, in fact.
But as I said, materialism is not the only source of my dilemma: The knowledge that the luxury I’m wrapped in was made possible by the injustice and exploitation of the poorest of the poor, and I that I live my life of North American comfort on the backs of my brothers and sisters across the globe, eats me up inside. How can I sleep comfortably in my bed at night when everything in my bedroom, from the bed sheets to the alarm clock, have probably been manufactured in sweatshops where workers have been paid as little as 87 cents an hour, possibly less? I have been fooling myself in thinking that the slave era is mostly over. Allah says in the Qur’an, “blame attaches but to those who oppress [other] people and behave outrageously on earth, offending against all right: for them there is grievous suffering in store!” (42:42). No, I’m not involved in the making and maintenance of those terrible sweatshop conditions, but my comfort and ease are a direct result of this exploitation as I benefit from the products these poor workers slave over. I own the products they slave over! Their hands have bled over my things, and I don’t even give it a second thought as long as I am still able to purchase cheap goods.
I cannot continue to feel that this is okay. As a Muslim, my duty is to struggle against oppression on earth. If my lifestyle is a cause of the oppression of thousands of individuals, then something within it must change, and I cannot keep thinking that the normal checklist items are the only measures of my levels of religiosity. This blog is the beginning of that change and I hope that through it I can help bring others along with me on the journey to transform that internal agitation and discomfort with my extreme North American lifestyle into to real action.