A few weeks ago  I went to a very enjoyable 70th birthday celebration of one of our murids. While we were eating, somebody mentioned the game “Dumm”. There was much excitement around the table as names and moves were mentioned associated with this game; names of those who have come down in our history as major players of the game, and highly sophisticated moves in this game that have also come down in history. I tried to enter the conversation although I did not know what they were talking about. I felt I was not part of the group or part of its culture.
I know that in the recording of our history there are also recordings of major time wasting activities by people who should have been in the forefront of our communities’ spiritual and intellectual growth. Many of the first generation of Muslims gave their lives to Islam. Some were hacked to pieces, and others lost limbs; so many died as martyrs. From these centres in Arabia, Allah (ﷻ) sent forth perhaps the world’s greatest renewal of thought and knowledge. Those first few generations of Muslims, despite all the negative factors, led a revival of man’s intellectual and spiritual growth, unequalled in the history of humanity. As I dictate this, so many names float through my mind. Islam had produced, during those times, some of the greatest intellectual and spiritual figures of all time. What started in the cave, with the first revelation, blossomed into an intellectuality and spirituality that spread through major parts of the world. The light of the first revelation gave rise to massive lights of thought of different disciplines in knowledge and of major achievements in spirituality. Wherever Islam went, these lights went with; beams of light, which had its origins in the light of the first revelation in a semi-dark cave, just outside of Mecca. Perhaps the best definition of Islam at this stage would be a conglomeration of beams of intellectual and spiritual lights.
While I was listening to my Muslim colleagues, some of my thoughts had to do with the nature of Muslims during these early periods. Not only did Islam change the religious cause of humanity, but also changed its intellectual and spiritual cause. Islam was a civilization that sent its beams of light through its adherence to every corner of the world. It became universalized.
We here in South Africa, I am talking about the Muslims, are part of this process. What has happened to us? Today we play little games and kick little balls and we think we are making a contribution to the world’s civilization. How is it possible for a Muslim, whose origins have to do with major intellectual and spiritual renewal, to spend his time pushing little checkers on a board or kicking or hitting a ball around. And if he was not doing this himself, he would be spending hours of his time basking in the sporting culture of this world.
Why am I saying all this to you? This morning (20th June 2011), one of the Naqshbandi murids told me that he had gone to a mosque in Woodstock, Cape Town (that was recently praised for its urban revival), and nobody from the local Muslim community came to join them in the remembrance of their Lord. I just shook my head; perhaps in disappointment, or perhaps in disgust. Our forefathers changed the world. We do not have the time to remember our Lord, because many of us sit glued to the television, watching a game in which a ball is thrown around. Our forefathers lost limbs and martyred themselves for this religion. Many of us are unconcerned about our spiritual growth, and unconcerned about the direction the community is going. Our forefathers launched historical processes, the consequences of which we still see. We play stupid little games and spend hours in it to demonstrate our counting abilities. Our forefathers changed the science of mathematics and directed mathematics in a new direction with the introduction of the zero into the science. We play little counting games on a checkers board and consider ourselves great achievers in this activity. Our forefathers made major achievements in and contributions to a variety of disciplines of knowledge. We are also great writers. We compose “moppies”. What has happened to us? We should be leading the academic and intellectual direction in this country, if for nothing else, then to honour our forefathers. We are not even caricatures of these people. They produced giants! We do not even produce pygmies. What has gone wrong with us?
What has happened to us? I want to take you to one of our forefathers to demonstrate what I am talking about. He was Shaykh Yusuf of Macassar. He had spent a large part of his life striving very hard for intellectual achievement and became one of the great scholars of what we call Indonesia today, in a variety of sacred disciplines. At the same time, he strove hard, through one or other Sufi Order to attain special spiritual stations from his Lord. He had brought together the striving or knowledge with the remembrance of his Lord. In this combination of the intellectual and the spiritual, he attained major heights in both fields. We have to understand that striving to acquire one or other discipline in sacred knowledge or in permissible knowledge, bears exceptional fruit when combined with periods of intensive worship. It is this process through which Shaykh Yusuf had put himself that made him what he later became; an intellectual and spiritual giant. An examination of the first generations of Muslims will teach us that they practised this process; and so they were intensely pious and great mathematicians, or they were intensely pious and great astronomers, or they were intensely pious and great historians.
What we have done with our community is that those who strove for intellectual achievement generally ignored the intense remembrance of their Lord and that those who strove for spiritual achievement generally ignored the striving in the different disciplines of knowledge, as I have mentioned. But Tuang Guru was not like this. He strove within the Alawiyah Tariqah for spiritual achievement and was granted the spiritual station of Wilayah (Friendship) with Allah (ﷻ). But he also wrote a book “Knowledge of faith and religious practice”, which demonstrated his intellectual abilities. He, like Shaykh Yusuf and others, combined in themselves the dual process of striving for knowledge and striving for spiritual attainment.
We have lost all this. Today, many of those who have gone far in intellectual achievement know little or nothing of the sciences of the Hereafter. And so, they cannot reach the heights of some of our forefathers and have become lost in the general Muslim population. Perhaps here and there, and I am not sure, one might find individuals who have adopted this dual process. It is the discarding of the dual process that has caused our community to produce intellectuals or academics without any spirituality or without having attained any spiritual station.
And so the community’s cupboards with giants in both fields, the intellectual and spiritual, are bare. In the last half century, I think, we have produced nothing to put in that cupboard. And so we play “dumm” and dominoes, kick or throw or hit balls around, and the crowds cheer. And our names are eventually going to be lost in the sands of time. We might be remembered by similar people for our achievements on the checkered board or on the sports field. We ask Allah (ﷻ) to give this community direction; away from the sporting inanities of this world, to books, the prayer mats, and the rosaries, amin. We ask our Lord for guidance for them, and for us, amin.