Through various forms of print and electronic media we are encouraged to consume things we do not need, a lifestyle that threatens our planet and erodes our humanity. We are encouraged to fornicate and to abandon the values, mores, customs and conventions that have supported family life since the advent of humans on this planet.
One of the disheartening features of our modern, or for some our postmodern condition, is that it encourages us to live lives of isolation, oftentimes divorced from even the crowds that might surround us in our bustling cities. We have friends and acquaintances, but many times these relationships do little more than disguise our fundamental state of alienation. One of the disastrous consequences of our state is that sometimes we become isolated from even our true selves and from our Lord. This condition of alienation from Allah is reinforced and encouraged by many of the messages that permeate our environment. Those messages are conveyed via television, movies, popular music, literature, and many other means.
Many of the techniques currently used to convey those messages were unknown to many Muslim parents who have migrated to the West from towns or villages in the Muslim world; places that lacked in some instances electricity, not to mention televisions, iPods, the internet, and related media. For those Muslim parents who converted to Islam here in the West, those techniques, some of which are designed —by way of example— to create lifelong brand identification in six-month-old babies, were in rudimentary and simplistic stages of development during their youth. Now, they are fully perfected and along with other forces that currently influence and help to shape the psychic and spiritual environment we are developing in, they create an atmosphere that challenges a believer in ways that are unprecedented in human history.
Through various forms of print and electronic media we are encouraged to consume things we do not need, a lifestyle that threatens our planet and erodes our humanity. We are encouraged to fornicate and to abandon the values, mores, customs and conventions that have supported family life since the advent of humans on this planet. We are encouraged to use drugs, drink alcohol, and to become gluttons by consuming ever expanding quantities of food “products.” We are encouraged to interact with the opposite gender in ways that are debasing and potentially destructive. How can a young Muslim negotiate such rough terrain? Answers to this question have been scarce, especially answers that resonate with our youth. Now, Habeeb and Sa’ad Quadri, two Chicago-area youth organizers, experienced teachers, and perhaps more importantly, individuals who have walked down the challenging, obstacle-strewn roads many of our youth are currently traveling, provides a meaningful answer. That answer lies in this book, The War Within Our Hearts, an insightful volume that takes on many of the issues confronting Muslim youth here in the West, sometimes with humor, oftentimes with brutal frankness, but always with sound knowledge and great clarity.
The War Within Our Hearts focuses the attention of the reader on the real battleground where the war for the soul of our youth is being waged, the hearts. If we are looking for the source of the problems currently vexing Muslims, young and old alike, there could not be a better starting place, for our Prophet, peace upon him, has reminded us: “Surely, in the body there is an organ, if it is sound the entire body is sound and if it is corrupt, the entire body is corrupt. Verily, it is the heart.
It has been said that the enemies that are waging a relentless war against our hearts are four: the ego, Satan, our whimsical desires, and the world itself. The most dangerous of these enemies is the ego. The soul in its unrefined, unconstrained, immature state is the ego. That it is the more dangerous than even Satan is illustrated by the fact that during Ramadan, Satan and his dupes are chained up. The Prophet, peace upon him, mentioned, “When Ramadan arrives the gates of Paradise are flung open, the gates of Hell are slammed shut, and the Satans are shackled.” However, some people continue to engage in sin. How could this be when Satan and his dupes are shackled? We are taught that those sins emanate from the ego.
We mentioned that one of the characteristics of the ego is its spiritual immaturity. Its maturation takes place over time. This fact is illustrated by the story of Joseph in the Qur’an. When the soul of the wife of the Aziz of Egypt, Zulaikha, was immature and unrefined, she was a prisoner of her passions and impulses. As a result, she could not see the blame that she bore for her attempt to seduce Joseph. To prove her lack of guilt she gathered the women of her circle and had Joseph enter the room. When they lost control of themselves in his presence, she used that as an affirmation of her innocence. However, as the years passed and her soul matured, she was able to free herself from her passions, to see her guilt as well as the negative impact her actions had in the events leading to the wrongful incarceration of Joseph. “She declared: I do not absolve myself of any blame. Surely, the ego commands what is vile, except for those my Lord has mercy on. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful” (Qur’an 12:53).
This verse emphasizes something of tremendous relevance for our youth. Specifically, the ego naturally inclines towards vileness. Hence, without a conscious effort to restrain it and to nurture it toward maturity, it will naturally draw a person toward the vileness and vulgarity that is intricately intertwined with contemporary youth culture: the alcohol, drugs, violence, abusive language, misogynistic attitudes, pornography, crass music, sloppy dress, rejection of parental authority, and other vices that stand in clear contradistinction to sound Islamic principles and teachings. The immaturity of the soul is one of the main reasons many of the things mentioned here are particularly attractive to young people nowadays. These are some of the very issues that Habib and Sa’ad Quadri deal with in this enlightening volume.
As for Satan, his enmity towards the human being is clear. Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “Verily, Satan is an enemy unto you, take him as an enemy” (Qur’an 35:6). For his part Satan mentions, “Because you have waylaid me, I will lie in ambush of them on your straight path. I will assault them from their front, their rear, their right and their left. And you will not find most of them thankful” (Qur’an 7:16-17). It is said that the assault of Satan from these various vantage points means that he will assail us in our worldly affair, our religious life, and cause us to doubt about the veracity of the Hereafter. We often forget that Satan has declared war on us and is waging that war on many fronts. We live our lives as if his assault is fictitious or harmless. If we are to survive his attack we have to be constantly on guard against his schemes and conspiracies.
In that Satan is at war with us, we must fight back. Allah encourages us in the Qur’an, “Therefore, fight you altogether the dupes of Satan. Surely the scheme of Satan is weak” (Qur’an 4:76). By implementing this order, we do not sit back and allow Satan to bring the battle to us. If we do so we will inevitably be overwhelmed. We have to go on the offensive. We go on the offensive against Satan by staying constantly in a state of purity, by means of Wudu and Ghusl. We stay on the offensive with the frequent remembrance of Allah. We stay on the offensive by regularly reciting the Book of Allah. We also fight Satan and his dupes by avoiding the arrogant and self-centered attitude that led to his demise.
Satan’s arrogance was instrumental in his being prevented from entrance into Paradise. Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “And when We said to the Angels bow down before Adam, they did so, except Iblis, he refused, arrogated himself, and was among those who reject faith” (Qur’an 2: 34). As for those who will inhabit the heavenly home, Allah describes them in the following terms, “This is the Home of the Hereafter that We have made for those who do not desire to exalt themselves on Earth, nor to work corruption therein; and the [good] end will be for the God-conscious” (Qur’an 28:83). Satan fell from Allah’s grace owing to his arrogance. Many believers will be saved due to their humility. Each and every one of us has to choose which of these two paths we will follow: the path of arrogance or the path of humility.
Controlling one’s whimsical desires is also instrumental in holding on to one’s religion and successfully living a life of faith. Falling victim to our whims is very similar to how some of us succumb to the whisper of Satan, for it is during our moments of heedlessness that we become susceptible to both. However, resisting our soul’s whimsical desires is not an easy matter. In addition to mental and spiritual alertness, we have to consciously struggle against those whims. Allah says in the Qur’an, “As for one fears when he will stand before his Lord, and denies his soul its whimsical desires, surely Paradise will be his refuge” (Qur’an 79: 40-41).
This is the “jihad” that Habib and Sa’ad Quadri are alluding to in the pages of this book. That is to say the “jihad” to control of tongue, the “jihad” to turn away from the pornographic pictures and the lewd, indecent lyrics. The “jihad” to resist the temptation to attend the wild parties, or to dress in a manner totally unbecoming a Muslim. The practical solutions Habib and Sa’ad Quadri offer to these and many other issues currently vexing our youth are tactical steps in the “Greater Jihad.” Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “As for those struggling for Our Sake, we will guide them to our Paths. Indeed, Allah is with those possessing inner excellence” (Qur’an 29: 69). Those paths are the paths leading to Allah. They are only accessible to those who struggle for His sake. Habib and Sa’ad Quadri have rendered our youth an immeasurable service by delineating for them very practical and easily performed steps to guide that struggle.
Finally, the world itself is a great enemy of the human being. However, this is not necessarily so, for the world can also be a source of great benefit. Whether the world is an enemy or a source of benefit lies in how a person approaches it. If one approaches it with caution and the understanding that it has many potential pitfalls, then one can negotiate past its hazards and traps. The Prophet mentioned, peace upon him, “The world is a source of beneficial enjoyment, and the most beneficial thing in it is a righteous spouse.” This hadith presents us with a clear message concerning the potential benefit of the world. However, the Messenger of Allah, peace upon him, also said, “The world is sweet, green [and lush].” This seemingly innocuous statement is a warning against the seductive temptation of the world. It can definitely benefit us, but it can also seduce us.
Its seductiveness lies in its ability to blind us and lead us to believe that its delights are unsurpassed and that they endure. When a person has been seduced by the world he comes to believe that there is nothing nicer and more pleasurable. He believes that he is in a paradise, and he believes that the delights of the world are permanent. The believer knows better. The Prophet, peace upon him, described this state of delusion in a few brief words when he mentioned, “The world is paradise for the disbeliever and prison for the believer.” This is a powerful statement concerning the nature of the world. The disbeliever is deluded into believing there is nothing more pleasurable than this world, and his entire life devolves in a reckless, hedonistic endeavor. As for the believer, he lives like a prisoner, realizing that like an incarcerated person, he cannot do what he wants, when he wants, how he wants. However, like a prisoner he looks for opportunities to do things that will benefit him when he returns home.
A thoughtful prisoner will take advantage of the educational and vocational opportunities that are available for him. He will take advantage of the free time to read abundantly, expanding his mind and raising his consciousness, as was the case of Malcolm X and countless others. He will also hit the weights and work himself into tip-top shape. Hence, the Prophet, peace upon him, has presented an amazing parable for the world. In it the believer is constrained by the rules put in place by the warden. However, he takes full advantage of the opportunities he has, even in such a harsh and dangerous environment, of those things that will benefit him when he goes before the parole board and when he finally returns home.
With this invaluable book, Habib and Sa’ad Quadri have reminded our youth of these realities. They have shown us many of the weapons that the ego, Satan, our whimsical desires, and the world use in their war against our hearts, and they have given tremendous insight into the means of defense that we have at our disposal to resist the combined assault of those forces. They do this in a readable and accessible fashion that will not repulse those youth that have been pushed away from religion by the strict formalism and rigid thinking of scholars and teachers who, through no fault of their own, are simply unfamiliar with the mentality of Western Muslim youths and the severity of the challenges that they face just to be Muslims. Hence, when they remind us of the war that is being waged on the battleground of our hearts, they do not cause us to despair. Rather, they encourages us by letting us know that this is a winnable war. Armed with that knowledge, let us all enter into the fray and begin fighting back.
By Imam Zaid Shakir on 14 June 2011
The above essay was written as the introduction to a book by Habeeb and Sa’ad Qadri, two Chicago-based youth activists, entitled, The War Within Our Hearts. It contains valuable information into the nature of our hearts and the means to their purification. It also has some advice that may prove useful to younger Muslims.