I must turn off my phone, or ignore it. I feel my life is being controlled online by gnomes who distract me from what I want to do by bombarding me with breaking News, advertisements, suggestions of people I should befriend. Like an insistent nagging relation. Somehow, being a polite and vulnerable kind of person, I give them attention as if they were present with me in the room, or at the very least, they leave a wisp of guilt in my mind that badgers at me. There are too many people and too many things to think about. I am not given time to think or review what I want.
Here in England, in the recent election we were assailed with opinions and anxieties, “if you don’t vote this, then that will or will not happen,” by people who have no dignity and do not care.
I want to be quiet and meditate and find my inner space and then “beep” the phone goes and I cannot resist taking a look to see who (or I should say more correctly and old-fashionedly) whom it is.
Perhaps it is because I did not grow up in a digital age. I grew up in the age when a phone was something big, heavy and attached to the wall, often in another room or in the hall, and did not ring very often; when it did it was usually something important. Now we feel the obligation to communicate with people online all the time, partly because it is possible. The connection between hearts is now wiped out by the easy access of a Whatsapp or a phone call so we don’t trust our hearts anymore. We don’t have time to listen. We don’t make time to listen. Before a certain amount of trust was required to not keep interfering in other people’s lives and let them just get on with it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a friendly chat online as much as anyone, it is often a boon when you live a life far away from loved ones and feel lonely or bored.
Then there is shopping. Over the current Christmas period I see people wandering around in daze, the music blasting out in mind-numbing volume. They are shopping like zombies in a fest of consumerism. We are no longer able to truly concentrate on what we like and want nor even see anything clearly. Shopping when I was young was a matter of one of a few corner shops where the choice was limited, or at Christmas a trip to see the splendid lights and windows in Selfridges – and one usually spent what one had saved for a year. But it is no longer once a year, every month there is another excuse to spend more and more money for some event we are supposed believe in – Halloween, January Sales, Valentine’s Day, Easter. It is like treading through a minefield trying to accomplish the simplest of tasks. I like mince pies and roast turkey but not the mad shopping – especially as since I became Muslim I no longer celebrate Christmas. I have to admit it just made me want to grab my loaf of bread from Marks and Spencer and run out of the shopping mall as fast as I could.
What is the matter with those who are kafir?
They run about in front of you,
With outstretched necks
And staring eyes,
On the right and on the left
In scattered groups
Surat Ma’arij – The Ascending Steps
One of the wives of the Shaykh of my Shaykh in Morrocco, used to give the murids a du’a, a prayer, to avoid distraction when shopping. The market then was a relatively simple one of djellabas and food – although I am sure it could be equally distracting, as when you have only a little money to spend everything looks wonderful. The point is to have a clear intention of what you are going for, to be conscious and remember Allah during the process.
We have reached the mind-controlling totalitarian Brave New World of Big Brother predicted in the 20th century, and described by Margaret Atwood as one of “boundless consumption… where shopping reigns triumphant… Have we become a society of vapid consumers, idle pleasure-seekers, inner-space trippers and programmed conformists?”
My answer to the question is yes! And it is all built on the edifice of unlimited credit and belief in money. After Christmas, the bills come crashing in and people are depressed and suicidal.
As Muslims we know that in the end we all have to pay our accounts in this world and the next. What are people doing? Obviously not worshipping Sayyedina Isa, who like our Prophet Muhammad, loved and lived among the poor. Even the Christians knew that. In Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, Scrooge sees a vision of his own death and realizes where his worship of money has brought him and so he finds redemption in generosity and feeding the poor.
By the Late Afternoon
Truly man is in loss –
Except for those who have iman and do right actions
And urge each other to the truth
And urge each other to steadfastness.
Surat al-Asr – The Late Afternoon
How do we combat this? What do we do in this dire situation? We need to remind ourselves and each other to trust that things won’t run out; that our children don’t need so much; we don’t need so much, we can do without many things; that Allah is there and He is charge of the environment and our sustenance. That we must take care of what we have been given and be thankful. We have companions whom we love; we need to keep company with them and work towards a more human way of transacting. We do whichever good actions we can and we keep going, keep doing the prayers, the dhikrs, the remembering. We give ourselves quiet times to recharge the batteries. After all, the phone has to recharge and the more you use it the more you have to recharge it, just like the bank balance.
What is with you runs out,
But what is with Allah goes on forever.
Surat an Nahl – The Bee