Loving this World, Work, and the Privilege of Contemplation

Religious leaders during sermons often advise their congregations not to love this world, explicably sensing that love of this world will replace the love of God. While this is a justifiable claim—people enraptured in the material often experience emptiness which they attempt to fill with more material, believing they are achieving what the material superficially represents (love, social acceptance, etc.) rather than the useless thing itself—I would argue there is not enough emphasis, if any, in loving the world while accepting that it is fading fast. It was, after all, created by God.

Fully aware of my imminent death, I often feel resentful when I listen to religious leaders preach about the insignificance of this world while advocating engrossment in spirituality and religious reflection. This is a very privileged position. It’s easy to be so very spiritually aware! when one is a man, unburdened by the fucking barrier in his face. Women who preach the same are often very well-off, have reached a point of respect and acceptance in the structural sins of religious institutional hierarchy by consistently agreeing with the interpretations of men, and thus perpetuate discriminatory beliefs in their bubbles of safety while appealing to other women in their spiritual virtue. Women, after all, have the statistical inclination of being more spiritual than men.

If a male religious leader describes his own spirituality (and how he really *feels* God) and preaches about tolerance and acceptance while maintaining a barrier, I am particularly indignant. It is one of the vilest aspects of liberal religious hypocrisy. Fostering a mosque environment that is hostile to women, whether through a barrier or other devices of intense segregation and / or underlying sexual fear, while simultaneously appeasing to others (including Muslims themselves) to convince them that Islam is not a unjust faith is enraging. I’d much rather pray behind the man who delivers uninspiring speeches and quietly eliminates injustice than the one who is all talk on the glory of God and fails to work hard. I want to hear a laundry list on want needs to be done—we have to paint downstairs, there is a drought in the next county, a part of the church across the street broke down and we are leaving now to help rebuild, etc.—and to see him at these places with sweat on his forehead, than listen to him gasp at how we must love Eternity. The former is quietly endearing. The latter, meant to be, leaves me resentful. Meditate on Heaven? Easy for you to say. There’s a fucking barrier three inches in front of my nose.

Admittedly I’m a very spiritual woman, but I feel incredibly arrogant to concentrate on this while there is work to be done, especially when it involves preaching to persecuted women. I’m baffled when other women who consider themselves anti-feminist can do this. In Islam there is a perception of the “benevolent” patriarchy: that in exchange for a woman fulfilling her “role” the men in her life will protect her. Anti-feminist women have not been personally exposed to disadvantaged, impoverished, or abused circumstances to realize this is a lie. There is no benevolent patriarchy. What are men protecting you from? Themselves. And they will become condescending as soon as you stop parroting their interpretations that perpetuate sexism and privileges them. You’ve been placed in a position to teach other women by the same system that oppresses these women, as a mark of tokenism, shielded from the harshness of this reality. Will you exchange your soul—the freedoms given to you by God—for the artificial safety offered by men?

As “enlightening” as I find these heartfelt sermons on how only God can fulfill us so there is simply devastation in loving this world, I often suspect they are a device of superficially heavenly radiance to attempt to overcompensate for the utter lack of justice in Muslim communities, depending on whether the man who is spouting them is highly patriarchal, or else maintains a “liberal” persona while conveniently preserving a barrier or deriding Islamic feminism. Both engender my suspicion. I don’t mind them from communities who have evidently walked the walk.

Shuffling through Safiyah’s blog, I found a post that resonates with me: “There is a reason why there are no Islamic monks,” she writes.

“We are meant to keep our both feet firmly on the ground, even if our heart longs for our final Home. Islam teaches us to be involved in our communities, to care about others, to marry, and to not lock ourselves away somewhere.

“We made you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with the example of your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind.” (Qur’an, 2:143)

True, we shouldn’t get caught up in this world and all its splendor, but we shouldn’t hide from it either. We have a responsibility to make this world a better place, to give charity, to want for others what we want for ourselves, while we worship God and strive towards His mercy and forgiveness.

Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous- (the righteous are) those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good.(Qu’ran 3:133 –134)

The worshippers of the All-Merciful are they who tread gently upon the earth, and when the ignorant address them, they reply, “Peace!“ ( Qur’an 25:63)

*Obviously she is not writing in the same context as I am, so I want to be clear I don’t intend in any way to misrepresent her view.

This post has been brewing unexpressed for a while, and her post made me think exactly of this; credits to her.

2 thoughts on “Loving this World, Work, and the Privilege of Contemplation

  1. Salaam Nahida,
    I’m glad one of my posts resonated with you =) I agree with what you said, and I firmly believe there should be a balance between thinking about Heaven and keeping your feet on the ground, actually doing the work to bring that concept of Paradise a bit closer to earth. We can definitely make a difference here!


  2. Pingback: Dignity and invisibility « A Sober Second Look


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