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Umar’s Gate and Kierkegaard’s Paradox

Most dreams I have evaporate as soon as I wake up, but today’s precipitated heavily on my heart. I can extract the sources of many of its symbols, but nevertheless, the take-home message is one I will be reflecting on.

Notably, this was a long dream, with an elaborate scenario. Our town was being invaded by a cult (source: reference to the “cult of Harun Yahya” in a critical article I recently read). The leader of the cult was a religious figure I encountered in Lausanne. Under his leadership worked an army of gruesome 1-foot-tall aliens and hypnotized teenagers. They had already seized a high-school and devoured most of its students. The main character of the dream managed to escape from the school and reach the State Police barracks in the neighboring town. Incidentally, the cult seized the SP barracks in the town they were invading. From a megaphone, the cult leader began to speak softly and calmly thus luring the population of the town hypnotically to come to him (source: Guyana Tragedy). The main character of the dream sneaked into the invaded town where people were now dark under their eyes and confused. The cult’s plan was to gather everyone in one place and execute them all in one blow.

The main character manages to enter a police station where chaos is erupting. In the midst of this turmoil he suddenly enters a state of calmness and approaches a metal door next to the police station’s entrance. The main character knows that this is the “Gate of Umar” (source: thinking about Umar ibn al-Khattab and his Shariah-inspired politics/management or Siyasah Shar’iyyah, the gate must be in reference to the hadith in which Umar is the gate blocking fitna/turmoil). [In the dream] the Prophet Muhammad had declared, “No one enters through this gate except Umar.” This statement was similar to the tone in his declaration that all house doors leading to the courtyard of the mosque were to be sealed off except for that of AbuBakr.

However, the main character of the dream, although he wasn’t Umar, approached the gate with a resolve to enter it. Not only that, but the guard – appointed to prevent anyone from entering it after the death of Umar – acknowledged his attempt and in fact instructed him that it’s the right panel, not the left that is to be pushed. As the main character opens the “Gate of Umar,” he enters into a small courtyard, in the background he can hear the music from ‘Gladiator’ when Russell Crowe is killed at the end of the movie and opens a door to the afterlife. As he enters the courtyard, he sees a hypnotized teen pass by and a heart drawn on the inner wall gets peeled off and evaporates in the air. He hears someone read from Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, “Thus, either the single individual stands in absolute relation to the absolute, or Abraham is lost.”

At the end of the courtyard was another gate which opened to the street, as the main character traversed the courtyard and exited from the other side, he was no longer who he used to be, but was now Umar himself, with a white thawb and beard. In entering through the gate of Umar, he became Umar. “Umar” now crossed the street and proceeded to a known destination. I, the dreamer, do not know where this “Umar” is going, but I see him entering quietly into a small building and being greeting in whispers by a young adult. “Is everything ready?” Umar asks, to which the young man nods. All of the sudden, we see a stream of young children coming out from a room they were hiding in. They know this “Umar” and they smile at his arrival. He hugs some, kisses others and wipes on their heads. I, the dreamer, am shocked when I see the young man hand Umar an axe (source: The Hunting Party). One by one, Umar goes to each child, rests them on the floor and deals their neck a blow with the axe! He finishes them all, then goes back to some few who were moving, and deals them another one to put them to rest (source of sacrifice: Fear and Trembling).

I wake up.

I woke up thinking about this heavy dream, in which “Umar” to protect the children from the invading cult in fact kills them himself. I reflect on the absurdity of this plan and remembered Mishmish, my cat. The first time Mishmish gave birth to three kittens, she ate them all! I didn’t know how to explain this except that she wanted to protect them and by keeping them inside of her she was doing just that. As absurd as it might have seemed, I could only see a mother’s instinct.

“Umar” to protect the children, killed them himself. I then remembered the movie “The Hunting Party” which I had watched the day before, and wondered: If I were a [Muslim] Bosnian father and my village was under siege and the enemy was minutes from our home. As I look at my daughters I would see in them victims of gang-rape and murder. Would I, the loving father, kill them with my own hands rather than they be raped and killed at the hands of a heartless enemy? Would I, to protect my daughters kill them? If I were a Jewish father and the Nazi’s were approaching my home, would I think of my family’s fate in the gas chamber and rush to suffocate them myself in their sleep?

Such is the paradox of a bona fide sacrifice; to protect something you forsake it. For Abraham’s sacrifice of his son was but a sacrifice of Abraham. In killing his son, for the love of God, Abraham was incurring God’s wrath over the murderer. To protect God’s love to him, Abraham was forsaking it. That is how I see the paradox in Abraham’s action.

To protect God’s love, Abraham forsakes it. To protect his daughters the Bosnian father kills them. To protect his family, the Jewish father suffocates them. To protect her kittens, Mishmish eats them. To protect something I forsake it. That is a paradox. However, this paradox is easily explained in the case of “Umar”, the Muslim, the Jew and the cat, but not in the case of Abraham. For when killing their children they are not protecting their “lives” by forsaking their “lives,” but rather they are protecting their peace and rest, by an act of merciful and quick murder instead of succumbing to the endless brutality of a torturing enemy. Yes, they will no longer be alive, but they are resting and they are at peace.

Abraham on the other hand… is utterly different. For in sacrificing his son, he obeys the command of God in order to protect that flow of love emanating from the Divine to himself. However in spilling the blood of an innocent child he incurs the wrath of God. Abraham knows this fate, but he can only proceed, for to reject God’s command is also to incur his wrath. Abraham’s trial was that he was put into a situation where he must incur God’s wrath, at the time his journey in life was close to its end.

I can understand the Bosnian father, I can understand the Jewish father and I can understand the cat. Why, I can understand a nurse hit by Hurricane Katrina; responsible for terminally ill patients faced with imminent drowning, chooses to inject them with a lethal dose of pain-killer. I can even understand the Egyptian father, when losing all his savings in the stock market kills his family lest they suffer poverty. I can understand them, even though as a judge, I would not lessen their sentence (except for the cat). I, as a judge would not forgive them, I would sentence them the way a murderer is sentenced, but I would then take off my robe, go home and as Ahmed, I would pray that the Almighty forgives them.

But Abraham… What can I do for Abraham? After sentencing him the way a murderer is sentenced, how do I go home and pray that the Almighty forgives him, when the reason behind the test from the very beginning was to incur God’s wrath?? Abraham becomes all alone. Abraham’s test is to love God knowing that God will not love him back.

Thus, I cannot agree with Kierkegaard that Abraham proceeded with sacrificing his son because deep inside he knew that God would deliver them both. No, for that would resolve the paradox. Rather, Abraham chose to proceed because deep inside he knew that to love God while expecting reciprocity, is but an act of hypocrisy, and that true love… is one that does not waver if the loved does not respond.

Perhaps I can now understand Abraham, but for sure, I can never be like him.

If one returns once again to the dream, the hypnotic teen in the courtyard should not have been there. For this was a restricted area behind Umar’s gate. Rather than someone who entered the courtyard, I find this person along with the evaporating heart a symbol of the state the main character entered when he transformed into “Umar.” This new “Umar” became, to the observer, a hypnotic figure with no emotions as we know it. No longer can we sympathize with him nor appreciate his actions as sympathetic, and no longer can we trust his reasoning. This new “Umar” when shifting his attention off of “Life” and focusing on the abstract of Rest and Peace, exits the realm of human understanding. For man thinks and plots in this world so that he may survive, where the end product of his actions should be a longer life, whereas this new “Umar” is defeating the entire purpose of man’s actions. He becomes heartless and irrational. However to the new “Umar” he is expressing the utmost level of compassion.

On Consensus

A paper I co-authored is coming out in the near future in which we critique the claim that Scholarly Consensus (ijma’) has been reached regarding the impermissibility of female-led mixed-gender prayers. The paper also expresses a subtle disfavor of the concept of Scholarly Consensus in general. I didn’t have space in the paper to communicate my general views on the issue, which is what I will attempt to do here.

The concept of Scholarly Consensus (ijma’) is rooted in al-Shafie’s interpretation of the verse:

“And whoever acts hostilely to the Messenger after that guidance has become manifest to him, and follows other than the way of the believers, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in Hell. What an evil refuge!” [Quran 4:115]

This “way of the believers” (or the ‘flow of the believers’ as I will occasionally refer to it) has been restricted to what scholars of jurisprudence have articulated the ‘way’ to be. It is my belief that the intended way of the believers transcends that articulated by scholars of jurisprudence and refers to the general consciousness and overall flow of the body of believers. Such a flow is the manifestation of what we can call the normative. The normative is not established by scholars articulating rules, but by the passion, tears, sweat and blood of the believers (which include, but are not limited to scholars). The normative is the evolving reflection of what the believers collectively find as acceptable to their faith and conscious.

In the verse mentioned, Allah warns of a severe punishment for those whom go against the flow of the believers. This alludes to an inherent moral paradox which is ubiquitous within matters of faith. On the surface, this verse may be understood as a call to uphold the status quo. However, the believer may at times feel compelled by his faith in God to stand against a common practice done by the community of believers. In other words, the believer finds himself in a conflicting situation.

God tells him in the Quran not to deviate from the way of the believers. However his very faith in God and the Quran compel him to speak out and act against his brethren in faith.

This I feel, is similar to (yet radically distinct from) the type of paradox mentioned by Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling. The flow of believers establishes an equivalent of the “universal,” which the believer accepts by virtue of his faith. However that same faith may require of the individual to rise above the “universal.”

I therefore see consensus as an authentic aspect of faith, as is occasional dissent against consensus. This contradiction may be considered a paradox. This paradox is the climax of spiritual experience. It’s a climax in which two believers may stand face to face each believing that God demands him to kill his brother. This climax is an intense moment of tension in which each person exposes who they truly are and who their g/God really is.

The believer must therefore uphold consensus as reflected in the flow of the believers. The believer must also go against that flow when his faith in God compels him to do so. A believer should not ridicule and dismisses the elaborate and caveat-ridden system of scholarly consensus established by our Scholars, rather if compelled by his faith, must be steadfast and ardent in working against it.

The believers should work to marginalize dissenting views that disrupt their flow. Yet the dissenting believer must continue to move uphill and demand his position in the center. This tension is the meat of faith. This tension is revealing of who we are. Such exposure of ourselves is the yolk of life.

So to speak about consensus as informed by the Quran, I cannot help but speak about dissent as well. The continuous conflict and tension inherent in this understanding confirms my belief that this world is not the abode of human mutual understanding, perpetual peace and prosperity, but rather a context in which we choose to experience the tension of faith in God or run away from it. In either case the objective is to reveal yourself.

This world is not the place of answers to such paradoxes. In this world we do not learn who was “right” and who was “wrong.” Rather, in the next world we learn who was more sincere to God in his faith, and who was not.

So you ask about my true opinion regarding scholarly consensus. I respond that my faith in God and the Quran lead me to accept whatever the scholars have accepted and work to defend and uphold it. Then in the same tongue and same breath I would vow to fight against every single scholar and every believer if my faith in God compels me to do so.

You ask me about my true opinion regarding scholarly consensus.  My belief in it is derived from my belief in God. Such belief may make me a passionate defender of the normative, or its thorn.

AbdelWahab al-Messiri once referred to this position in a negative light, in which one collapses the distance separating him from the Absolute thus leading to a suspension of morality and ethics. Kierkegaard also reflects on this problema in Fear and Trembling. However the suspension of morality and ethics is explainable as long as it is seen as a derivative, not an absolute. Morality and ethics when a product of faith in God, are means to a goal; obeying God. That same goal may demand another mean which may contradict to former. Thus to suspend ethics is to seek an alternative route to the same goal.

This is key; as the very definition of “obeying God” determines if the suspension of ethics means obeying one’s desires or obeying God. This leads us to a grand question. How to you know if you are obeying God or not? Or, what does it mean to obey God? Who am I obeying when I obey God? Such answer-less questions maintain the paradoxical nature of faith, in which we act and move not knowing exactly why or to where. Such tension and lack of tangible knowledge is the substance of faith.

Let me tell what I believe faith is like. Faith is like being in a dark forest when its pitch black and you can see absolutely nothing, then running full speed without any hesitation. The continuous tension between running faster and faster while knowing that if you hit a tree you will hit it hard, and it will be painful… that tension.. that heart squeezing feeling, that immense and increasing fear, despite which you resolve to run only faster… that is the feeling of faith. Such faith can only exist in the presence of an enormous gravitating force you observe, feel and believe in.

That gravitating force would compel me to defend my brethren and protect our flow. That same gravitating force may pull so hard as to make me knock every single one of them down in the way. That is faith.

So when you ask me about my position on consensus I say God will punish those who deviate from it, and in the same breath and with the same tongue I say, yet one’s love of God may compel him to seek His wrath. Thus, Abraham’s sacrifice of his son was really a sacrifice of his own self. I cannot agree with he who said that Abraham’s sacrifice of his son was stemmed from his faith in the absurd; that after complete resignation, all will be salvaged. No! His love of God and desire to submit totally to his Lord, was strong enough to have him obey regardless of the punishment awaiting the murderer. That is faith, to love God enough to accept a fall into the Fire… that is Faith.

To the believer, we have faith in God so that we may enter Paradise. However, to some believers… to the Knights of Faith, we have faith in God, even if that means being sentenced to the Fire.

Thus when we read again the verse of the Quran:

“And whoever acts hostilely to the Messenger after that guidance has become manifest to him, and follows other than the way of the believers, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in Hell. What an evil refuge!” [Quran 4:115]

When we read this verse we acknowledge that although most of those who go against the flow of believers do so in obedience to their gods of personal desire and worldly interests, there are a few Knights of Faith whom, while trembling, would accept the evil refuge of the Fire. For their object of devotion is not Paradise, but God.

So when you ask me about my true views on consensus, I say, I am its most adamant defender, and its worst nightmare. Yet, never am I comfortable with this position. Never am I able to rest with such a conclusion. For if my object of devotion is God and not Paradise, I then remember the question, “What are you wary of when you are wary of God?” I also remember the answer, “I am wary of loosing God.” If God to me is unconditional love and endless mercy and if the Fire is not mere burning, but an expulsion from God’s love and mercy, then I do fear the Fire, and thus the paradox remains. How can I do something in the name of yearning for God’s love and mercy when I know that doing that would expel me from such an abode?

I can only hope that God would pardon me from his wrath, yet that only adds another layer of uncertainty to the equation. Now, not only am I running while fearing the trees, but while wary of losing my way and falling into the deep Abyss of Fire.

Thus the paradox remains. How can I respect the flow of believers while knowing that I might swim against it at times? In swimming to God, how can I avoid drowning?

That is why when Abraham was sacrificing his son, he was only sacrificing himself, but he believed that even if he was doomed to the Fire and expelled from God’s love and mercy, eventually.. eventually after eons of trials, torment and torture… eventually God would look upon him with love and mercy once again. Eventually he will reach his destination. Thus if I choose to reconcile my view with the one I just rejected, Abraham’s faith that all will be salvaged is not in reference to his son, but rather in reference to his relationship with God.

The trail of Abraham was not that he was going to sacrifice his son, no. the trial of Abraham was that God put him in a situation where his arrival was to be delayed and interrupted with a transit in the Fire. That was the trial… out of nowhere, the journey of life that was almost over for Abraham was extended by an afterlife transit in the Fire. Kill your beloved son Abraham! Kill him for God! Kill him, deserve the wrath of God and enter the Fire… so that eventually, after eons of pain, you will once again be God’s most beloved friend.

That is was the trial of Abraham.

So when you ask me about my view on consensus, I sigh and say… stay with the flow of believers lest you enter the evil refuge of the Fire. But know that your love of God may compel you to earn such a refuge. And hope that after eons of pain and anguish, God will look upon you and accept you once again.

I now stand fearful that the abode of the Fire will not be a transit, but rather going against the flow of believers will result in eternal punishment. If so, I fear my faith is not strong enough to forsake the reciprocity of love between me and God for a unilateral expression of love. God forgive me for I am weak. I only love you hoping that you would love me back.

I can now imagine a trial greater than the trial of Abraham. God would say to his servant, love me for eternity, but I will never love you back. God, have mercy on us, for we are weak, humble and meek!

So when you ask me about scholarly consensus and the flow of believers. I’d cry and say… O’ God have mercy upon us both, him and me!