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Longing for Paradise

Longing for Paradise

Issue 60 September 2009

I want to live in a land called paradise. I do, I really do. But the world around me makes me feel ever more gloomy. I am slowly losing the ability to even envision what paradise might look like.

I feel guilty about my melancholy because I believe it is the human fitrah to feel hopeful and committed to creating a better world.

The UK’s recent scandal of MP’s expenses made me depressed for all sorts of reasons. Here were public servants, who claim they had entered public service to ‘give back’ and make the country a better place, taking public funds because the rules allowed it. They squirmed furiously over duck houses, light bulbs and moats, refusing to admit that they themselves had created the miscreant laws, and even if they were abiding by the laws, they had failed to stick to the spirit of them. I believe that those funded by the public should be held to higher account and should exemplify the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

In previous scandals I have always been frustrated by the lackadaisical shrugging of shoulders and “that’s how politicians are” attitude. This time, I was cheered up briefly by the righteous anger of the British public. But will anything change? Compared to the corruption of politicians in other countries around the world you might say that an electric massage chair on taxpayer’s money is a relatively mild misdemeanour.

But why do we set our demands so low? My thesis is that we expect the worst from our politicians, and that this reflects the low opinions as a society we have of other people, and even ourselves. L’Oreal adverts screechingly insist to us all – particularly women – that “you’re worth it”. It smacks of protesting too much, as though we need to be forced to hide the way we disparage ourselves and each other. And it’s true that we revel in our sneering, subtle prejudices, peering down from our superior boxes. She’s a chav, he’s a pikey, they are dirty kuffar.

This kind of behaviour is repellent, and can never form the foundation of any kind of paradise, whether that be in the material world, or in the Ultimate Divine eternity. The state we find ourselves in reminds me of a Buddhist parable. An old man who was going to die soon wanted to know what heaven and hell would be like, and so he was given a tour. In the first place he found that there was an enormous table with an incredible array of food, but all the people around the room were thin and hungry and were holding chopsticks 12 feet long. In the second place he saw a similar table with the same copious food. Here too the inhabitants were holding long chopsticks, but they looked well fed and happy. The old man asked for an explanation. The first stop was hell, where people were hungry because they tried selfishly to feed themselves with their own chopsticks. In heaven, the inhabitants fed each other, leaving each of them content and nourished.

The moral of the story? Heaven and Hell are the results of our own interactions with the world and specifically, with other people. If you do not see the worth, power, love or usefulness of engaging and offering mutual respect to other people then life around us deteriorates away from paradise to a living hell.

For those of you who are fans of Kareem Salama, you will recognise the opening line of the article from one of his songs. He continues “I want to see the birds fly”. I do too, and I sense that many people want to as well, but buried under this gloom and constantly “being busy”, I have found I don’t have time to appreciate this paradise, I’ve been trained out of looking, and instead of being appreciative I’ve almost become fearful of the world around us.

Can the earth ever be a paradise? Is that a blasphemy against traditions that say that the world will only ever be a prisoner for the believer because it will not let their spirit soar free to the Eternal? But why shouldn’t we engage with the breathtaking beauty of nature that is around us and inside each of us? If we were meant to reject the idea that we can create utopia, then Deen in its universal sense would have encouraged the esoteric to the exclusion of the worldly. In Islam, both the external and the internal are equally important. “I want to hear the angels sing,” adds Kareem Salama. I too am looking for the voices that are not just physically beautiful, but morally, spiritually euphoric, that turn a world of rage, anger and oppression into a chorus of human beauty.

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1 Comment



18 Oct 09, 23:37

Thanks for this insightful read. There should be more mainstream Muslim artists (not just singers) like Kareem Salama. I love his songs, and your piece made me want to listen to 'A Land Called Paradise' again. "Wanna hear the birds fly and I wanna hear the angels sing..."

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