I am currently reading a brilliant book recommended to me by a friend titled “If The Oceans Were Ink”. It is a book about the unlikely friendship between Sheikh Akram Nadwi and a secular American journalist, Carla Power. And it follows her year long journey of learning and understanding the Quran.
In a paragraph in the book, Sheikh Akram says the following, “The Quran is guidance, it’s not laws. It gives you the direction. Like if you want to go from here to London, it’s basically south. The Prophet comes and gives the main roads to make it easier.”
In reflecting on his statement I thought about the importance of language. It’s easy to struggle with Islam if our relationship with it is based solely on laws and restrictions. Use the word ‘guidance’ and some things take on a different outlook.
The Arabic word ‘Zulm’ is mentioned quite often in the Quran. It’s commonly used in the context of oppression but I’ve heard a scholar also define it as having misplaced priorities. In other words you put other things in the place that Allah should hold in your life. Another definition that’s stuck with me is Muhammad AlShareef’s visual explanation using a cup. He poured water into it and when the cup started overflowing he said, “Now this is Zulm. Excess.”
When I read Sheikh Akram’s words, I automatically thought about addiction (which I consider to be the product of excess) and some actions that lead to it which Allah has given guidance against.
“Do not go near adultery.”
“Do not get intoxicated in prayer.”
“Do not gamble.”
For some, these prescriptive guidance are what makes the faith restrictive but the alternative as we are witnessing isn’t any better. We are now seeing the ramifications of living in a society that is accustomed to giving into excess.
We give into excess when it comes to carnal desires, we give into excess with the way we eat, we give into excess with the way we spend money and all of it hasn’t brought us true happiness and contentment. The result is a society ridden, increasingly, with addictions which actually deprives us of freedom.
It’s strange because in our society we talk a lot about the ills of religion, but we have to give deference to the the guidance we also get from it especially on curbing ills before they manifest.
(Also can I just say, my love deepens for people who recommend brilliant books to me that I fall in love with. It’s a special kind of soul connection.)