Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Path to Piety

I like that name – “Path to Piety”. Short, catchy, and clear in meaning. Kudos to the person who came up with it.

Path to Piety is an annual three-day Islamic program hosted by Masjid dar us Salaam, a masjid located in the most densely Muslim populated neighbourhood in Canada, Thorncliffe (Toronto).  The entire Muslim Thorncliffe community, young and old, men and women, were brought to life during this event, enjoying the delicious burgers being grilled in the masjid parking lot, purchasing books, meeting old friends, trying out the new peach-mango smoothie at the nearby Tim Hortons, and most importantly, attending the program lectures. Many of the lectures filled the masjid to beyond capacity, to the point where one brother commented that the masjid reminded him of gatherings at Dar ul Mustafa in Tarim, Yemen.

This year, the theme of the program was “The Companions [of the Prophet]: Pinnacle of Humanity”. The guest scholars highlighted the virtues of select companions, and clarified many controversies that arose during their time using textual sources in ways that fostered love for all of the companions, may Allah be pleased with them all. In the end, the entire congregation was left with an increased reverence for the companions, a fervour to emulate their example, and sound knowledge of an era in Islamic history.

One lesson I took with me from the program was that the glory days of Islam – the era of the companions – was not exempt of difficulties. During the caliphate of ‘Ali, for example, three different camps were at odds with each other, and each one was lead by companions – Mu’awiya, ‘Ali, and Ayesha/Talha/Zubair respectively (May Allah be pleased with them all). One can imagine the turmoil and confusion arising among the Muslims through this conflict.  The impending threat of the Romans and the chaos ensuing from the creation of the khawarij further complicated matters.

Today, humanity – not just Muslims - lives in a similar cloud of confusion. The swift pace of life, the constancy of change, the abundance of choices and information, the contradictory opinions and reports, the weapons of mass distraction, etc all bow-tied with a deficient modern education system, dysfunctional families, and demoralization of society contribute to this cloud of confusion.

To escape from their confusion, people may learn new strategies, employ new tools, or embrace new theories. But while the current strategies/tools/theories may be useful to address current challenges, reliance on them would require that people constantly adopt new strategies/tools/theories as new situations arise. Otherwise, people may risk falling behind, becoming dependent on others, and becoming irrelevant.

A roadmap, for example, may be a useful tool insofar as it represents the current road system. But as road systems develop, roadmaps have to be continuously revised in order to remain relevant, and users have to obtain the latest roadmap to avoid getting lost or to ensure that they can locate their destination on the map.

Instead of keeping up with the latest strategies/tools/theories, however, there is another paradigm, one that will not only allow you to keep up with the changes in life, but will allow you to thrive in them.

Stephen Covey addresses this paradigm beautifully through the metaphor of a compass. A compass directs us to the true north, regardless of where we are. When we get lost, we can always refer to our compass to determine the true north, and retrieve our sense of direction. Regardless of how many roadway developments take place, and how many times the roadmap is updated, the compass will still guide us to the true north.

This compass is analogous to the unchanging principles that govern one’s life, principles that stay robust over time. Just as the compass points to the true north regardless of one’s location and roadway developments, so too do such principles guide one through life, even as life’s challenges, circumstances, and abilities change. My post, Timeless Advice on Time Management, for example, offers some time management principles that can be applied by anyone, anytime, anywhere. The implementation of these principles might change – the notebook scheduler may be replaced by a smart phone - but the principles themselves will remain fixed.

Thus, what we need to navigate through life is a ‘compass’. ‘Roadmaps’ are supplementary.

The Quran and the example of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) provide a core of unchanging principles to bring and keep humanity on the path to piety, or “the straight path” as Allah Most High repeatedly mentions in the Quran. These principles touch every aspect of our lives. The companions, despite their differences, all acted in accordance with Islamic principles. Thus, although one companion may have had a stronger case than the other, in the end each companion was correct in their own way.

To be gifted with these principles is a great blessing, because we don’t have to figure them out for ourselves through experimentation or logic. We simply have to put our faith in them and follow them. Whether we embark on a business, impart advice, play sports, establish a diet, or run an organization, our activities should be governed by the principles enshrined in Islam. Putting our trust in these divine principles will ensure that our activities do not cause us to deviate from the path to piety.

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