Fri. Aug 14th, 2020

Misplaced Stress on Religious Virtues


By Ammar Azam


Of late, a video that had gone viral a couple of months back, in which an old man-apparently no less aged than an octogenarian- could be seen lambasting the people for complaining about high inflation in the country, has once again begun to doing rounds on social media.

In a cameo performance of verbal explosion; one somewhat commensurate with a harangue by a demagogue- the clueless old man vehemently denies there are any traces of inflation, let alone hyperinflation. In the video he not only lashes out at those clamoring against the government’s inaction rather indifference pertaining to hyperinflation and rampant unemployment in the country but also vehemently accentuates that we should be grateful regardless of whatever befalls us, for complaining against inflation is tantamount to ingratitude; therefore may potentially invite God’s wrath. 

He erroneously tries to bolster his argument by quoting an instance from fifty years ago wherein a woman carrying a pitcher of Ghee upon inquiring tells that she is going to sell it in order to buy a pair of clothes from the money she would receive. Fifty years later he happens to encounter the same woman holding the same pitcher of Ghee; this time the woman is hoping to get a dupatta too, in addition to the pair of clothes by selling the same pitcher of Ghee. Hence “Kahan hai mehengayi?” (where is inflation?) Roars the clueless octogenarian. In the end, he preaches gratitude and patience tacitly suggesting that complaints against the incumbents are akin to showing ingratitude to the divine.

 What hugely befuddled me is not the old man’s lack of understanding with regard to economic indicators but his misplaced stress over the two great relgio-ethical virtues; Sabr and Shukr. Since we are cognizant of the fact that we have this religiously driven tendency to appear more self-righteous and sanctimonious at the latter stages of our lives, we should perhaps cut some slack to the respected but clueless old man. But to my chagrin(not surprise), the comment section of the video under discussion was bombarded with comments by our gullible youth, in agreement to what the old man had to impart. 

That, Sabr and Shukr if espoused and practiced in its true spirit and context shall bear fruit, is beyond doubt. The Arabic word Sabr is often taken to be the substitute of English word patience but it in fact is a multi-faceted word with different nuances and connotations imbued in it. In Arabic, Sabr implies not only patience but also ‘forbearance’, ‘perseverance’, endurance, composure, and self-control. Similarly, The Arabic term Shukr means gratitude, acknowledgment, thankfulness, or ‘Divine-responsiveness’. These two virtues are highly revered in Islam and Scholars have written at length about them. The medieval Islamic scholar Ibn e Qayyim Jawzzi has termed these virtues the “Two-halves” of Islam hence adding a great deal to their significance in the eyes of his followers.  

But the question on the proverbial tapis is: Who do we owe these virtues? our fellow homosapiens? government? or the Divine? And what if a state fails to live up to its responsibilities of providing service and justice to its citizenry? What if a state fails to safeguard the rights of its people enshrined in the constitution? and how on earth does voicing concerns over the abysmal performance on the part of a government amounts to ingratitude and lack of Sabr and shukr? Can we condone gross injustices and grave human rights violations and still be called sabir and Shakir? This is disturbing that we even have to pose such semantic questions to our youth and government at this age and time. The world has long outgrown hunter-gatherer societies and medieval ages where might used to be the only right and where emperors and lords used to exploit religious dogmas and sentiments to perpetuate their rule. But as species, our understanding of human rights has made great leaps forward over the years. Although Machiavellism and realpolitik still enjoys a lion’s share from the pie of world affairs but having a human rights charter and a world order in place is no lesser a feat. 

Islam stands out among other Abrahamic religions for the fact that unlike other monotheistic religions it shows a great regard for the welfare of its followers not only in the hereafter but also in this world. Since the inception of nation-states, no concept of social welfare has ever seen the light of day until or unless people push their respective states into action. Pushing states for action requires patience and perseverance. Allah says in the Quran:

“O you who believe! Be steadfast and be supreme in your perseverance [3:200]” 

“For your Lord’s [cause], be patient and steadfast [74:7]” 

“It is He who has given you a sense of hearing, sight, and understanding but little SHUKR you render [23:78]” 

These verses imply that being patient and steadfast doesn’t mean a fatalistic surrender to our circumstances nor does rendering Shukr means turning a blind eye to our socio-economic or socio-politic woes. We owe gratitude to the divine for the bounties we have been blessed with but not the to government. Not at least for the sheer incompetence, as in PTI’s case. 

At a time when people are reeling under the disastrous socio-economic impacts of Covid-19;  chiding them for their alleged ingratitude with regard to God’s bounties and lack of Sabr in the face of life’s afflictions is as severe an injustice as it could be. When we blindly adopt a religion, espouse a political idealogy or a literary dogma; this turns us into inanimate automatons and it stunts our growth. In his book, skeptical essays Bertrand Russel writes: ” The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.” This is scary for not letting our passion override our rational conviction, especially pertaining to the matter of religion and politics, which is an uphill battle. But if we don’t want to be stripped of our political and civil rights this is the proverbial Hobson’s choice. i.e not to let shallow passion overshadow our rational conviction. 

Thus letting sanctimonious priests and self-righteous leaders like in the one in the said video, obfuscate our understanding of basic rights and state’s responsibilities masquerading as Islamic teachings can be irrevocably devastating. As mentioned earlier we may cut the old man some slack but not our youth for they are the agents of change. It’s high time that we recalibrate our understanding of Sabr and Shukr. We owe it to the divine. We may conditionally owe it to our fellow homosapiens but not to our government. All we owe our government is compliance that too only if it in tandem with the constitution. We owe our state our patriotism and the biggest patriotism is to remain truthful to the constitution and clamoring for our rights enshrined in the constitution; No! it doesn’t amount to ingratitude or lack of Sabr and Shukr.

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