الَّذِيْنَ ءَامَنُوا وَ هَاجَرُوا وَ جَاهَدُوا فِى سَبِيْلِ اللهِ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَ أَنْفُسِهِمْ أَعْظَمُ دَرَجَةً عِنْدَ اللهِ وَ اُوْلآئِكَ هُمُ الْفَائِزُوْنَ
Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah’s Cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah: they are the people who will achieve (salvation) (ix: 20).
The concept of indecency being associated with exposure of certain parts of the human body to others, goes far back to the time when Nabi Adam (a.s.) and his wife, Sayyidatuna Hawa (r.a.) were in Paradise. When they had transgressed by eating of the fruit of the tree against their Lord’s wishes, they became aware of each other’s nakedness and ran to cover up parts of their bodies with some of the leaves of Paradise. In other words, they had become aware of each other’s awrah, although as man and wife there was nothing wrong in this, as far as we know, but they were still embarrassed for each other, because of their intense modesty. It appears that the concept of awrah, to expose part of one’s body to others, has to do with intense modesty. In the case of Nabi Adam (a.s.) and his wife, Sayyidatuna Hawa (r.a.), if the rules of the awrah were as they are today, then there would have been nothing wrong if they saw each other’s nakedness, but their modesty made them feel ashamed. And so, modesty with regard to one’s body, found expression for the first time in Paradise.
This concept of the awrah has come down through Divine Revelation to all the Messengers and, of course, the rules governing us came to the Prophet (ﷺ). This concept is not man-made, it is Divinely-ordered and so it falls into the same category as all the other Divinely-ordered instructions from our Lord. We, as Muslims, especially those of us who have made a special pledge to Him with regard to our religious behaviour, have to be very careful when we do things that suggest defiance of Allah Almighty. We should think very hard about the enormity of the punishment that Nabi Adam (a.s.) and his wife Sayyidatuna Hawa (r.a.) faced when they disobeyed their Lord.
This kind of disobedience of Allah Almighty today, is a direct result of individuals acquiring the cultural habits of people who have either not accepted, or have given no recognition, to the concept of the awrah that has come to us over the ages through the Messengers of Allah Almighty. We have in the world today large sections of humanity who pretend to be followers of one or other Messenger but who refuse to obey what those Messengers brought. Muslims who take for themselves the cultural practices of these groups, some of them which Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) had spoken against, are imitating a people who are in defiance of Allah Almighty. The matter is as serious as this otherwise the Prophet (ﷺ) would not have warned us against imitating the Jews and the Christians.
You see, we come in our history from a community that occupied a status at the bottom of the social ladder. It is characteristic of similar groups throughout the world to copy the cultural practices of the dominant classes. And so they want to speak their languages, copy their fashions and rites and generally try to be like them. And in the past many of us who were fair of skin would quietly slip into the white community and “play white”. For a few hours on those days they were white. This was also very common when I was young. Many of us, especially the products of heavy Euro-centred education in schools and universities would dress like the dominant class, follow their fashions, listen to the music they listen to, visit the places of entertainment they visited, if allowed, and in the process many of us dropped our religion and changed our names or anglicized our names. I always found it very humorous during the time of the British occupation of India, many of the Indians who went to study in Britain, came back and wore tweed suites during the Indian summer and spoke a highly pretentious English. They so much wanted to be British. Similar processes, that are called processes of acculturation, have occurred in the Muslim community as many of us wanted to take over the cultural practices of white-Christian society. Sometimes our skin colour allowed us to do this with impunity but even if it did not allow it, we still copied everything white, because of our belief that our own cultural practices were highly inferior to those of the dominant class at the time. Today, because many of the social relations that existed a few decades ago, are still in existence, these processes of acculturation in our community have continued. Today we even find it embarrassing to use some of the words that our fore-fathers used and that they had brought with them mainly from Asia. In a sense, we have become ashamed of our roots, and recognition is only given to religion at certain times of necessity such as deaths.
I will never forget a strange kind of experience I had as a young man. A certain senior Muslim of fair skin had gone to live in Woodstock, a dominantly “white” area. When he died, his children smuggled him out of Woodstock and brought him to Salt River from where he was buried. That family had become totally acculturated. I sometimes wonder what has happened to his offspring. This is how dangerous the processes are that I have described to you.
When I sit today and mull over what has happened in this community with regard to these processes, I think of the damage that has been done over the decades to Muslims. Some have gone out of the religion and disappeared in non-Muslim communities. Others have just quietly dropped many Islamic practices and changed their names.
I am telling you all of these matters because not only have I been a student of sociology, but I have seen how sociological processes work themselves out in a community that has lost its own culture and replaced it with a foreign one. It is the same kind of process that occurred when some of us had gone to live oversees. I remember sitting in my car in the Livingstone High School ground with a friend of mine who was going overseas to Canada. I told her: “I cannot see your grandchildren surviving the cultural onslaughts against your family that will take place against them”. I was wrong. Her children could not survive the onslaughts and they just dropped their Islam.
Let us come back to us who are in Tariqah. Because of the pledge we have taken, we are supposed to be of the most strict observers of the Divine Law. There is no doubt about it. The essence of the pledge was a declaration by each one of us that we were going to try our best to obey God, His Messenger (ﷺ) and those in authority amongst us, who obey God and His Messenger (ﷺ). This was our declaration. And every person who put his or her hand in my hand are reminded that they are giving this pledge to Allah Almighty. And all of you, without exception, nodded in agreement. So when it comes to the rules and regulations of Islam, obedience to Allah Almighty and His Messenger (ﷺ) is never questioned. It is in fact taken for granted. And defying the pledge and in the process defying Allah Almighty and His Messenger (ﷺ) is never supposed to be part of our religious behaviour. This is supposed to be the extent of our commitment. Many of the intensely pious people were so afraid of this commitment that they even stayed away from what was considered permissible just in case there was the slightest possibility that they might do something that is not permissible. They stayed away from the halal because of the fear of the haram.
Today people, including murids, do not care. They want all the benefits of being in Tariqah but at their price. They are losing and their losses are eventually going to be exposed to them either in this Dunya or in the Hereafter. A very poor, very uneducated lady who lives in one of the most dysfunctional communities in Blikkiesdorp, told me: “Islam is not a game”. On some occasions my Lord has given me a peep into the Barzakh. Even as I sit here today and I think about it, I just shake my head in sheer amazement at what those who had been disobedient to Allah Almighty are going through. But, of course, we will not even listen to this. My prayer for all of us is that Allah Almighty must revive in our hearts the pledges that we had made to Him, amin.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]