Posted by: Dawud Israel | October 16, 2011

Intercession and Indifference

Looks like things are about to get ugly. Don’t get involved. Should I get involved? It is the right thing to do…but what if…

How much more problematic can being between East and West, between Islam and modernity, between deen and dunya, can you get? How much dissimilar do

Everyday experiences will intersect into a scenario where the “turn the other cheek” has become “turn a blind eye.” You see a fight break out, and try to settle it and somehow in the fray end up becoming the bad guy. You see a conversation and butt in with a remark or two and immediately the tension and pressure is directed now at you. You say something at work to a co-worker about reconciling or mediating a conflict and chances are you will end up becoming the bad guy.

Its nothing we don’t know…in the modern day world: indifference is a virtue, intercession a sin. Less is more.

We have the Prophetic example to show us the honour and virtue of being a peacemaker and intercessor. But being naive is not a virtue. There are hadith that say, “intercede and be rewarded” while there are also hadith that say, “don’t be a yes-man.” The pragmatism of Islam is not limited by dogma and sayings, but by the sensibility of the fact Islam came out of a living social reality and people where what people thought, said, their personalities, character, and families were important. For them God is the goal. The pragmatism of modernity is not limited by anything, but by unpredictability and materialism. For them, the goal is whatever you make of it…or more likely, don’t. Finding the goal is the goal.

Today, if you get involved or say too much, there can be legal problems relating to liability and its a convenient excuse to do as little as possible. But then if you intercede on whose behalf are you interceding? Are you little more than a lawyer? Do you have a vested interest?  If you don’t, then what right do you have to get involved or intercede? Let’s say you do get involved in a dispute…what will you say to resolve it? Have you planned this out or are you gung-hoing this and risk making it worse?

You need courage, you need brains, and you need to be respected by everybody involved. That’s a tall bill and so apathy results. Not surprisingly, this paralysis is what gives rise to the idea of superheroes (in the West) and revolutions (in the East). People get angry when they can’t do a thing. Powerlessness. If I will incur a cost or risk, by getting involved as an individual…then the only logical choice is to get involved not as an individual but as a group. So there is a third choice: collective intercession. Tie up your fate with everybody elses.

For Muslims this raises more issues. For those things we are prohibited from, I would be lying to say for most of them I abstain from…more accurately, I am indifferent and apathetic to them. So in some sense, we must be apathetic to some things but involved when it comes to other issues. So we must be apathetic to Christmas and Halloween which alhamdulillah is fine with me, but I know for others they are not apathetic to these things and will make an issue of it, and instead are apathetic to religious rulings.

This summer I broke up a fight before it happened after Friday prayer. I knew something was going to happen as it was a situation where a young masjid volunteer was telling people to go downstairs as the main hall was full. Naturally, nobody listened and I could overhear his frustration grow. By the time the prayer was over, he was arguing with a Bengali “uncle” over having nudged him while he happened to be in prayer. And here is the other magic ingredient for interceding and getting involved, timing and impartiality. I didn’t take sides since clearly it was accidental and outside of their control but if I didn’t get involved then, when they were posturing to have a physical fight, it probably would’ve gotten uglier. To my surprise when I tried to break it up everybody else began to assist me and pull them apart. I imagine they felt like I did- that it took more effort and stress to stand by and do nothing, than to just go in and quickly break it up. It was a relief. The key to it is readiness. Are you ready? Or more importantly, are you ready to be ready? You have to have a mentality and prepare yourself to be active in times when you know most people will be indifferent. And if its done right, you can bring about others to help too because often they will want the good deeds and to participate in something good.

But what about apathy to the suffering of Muslims in prison and in oppression? In both cases, the imprisonment and the breaking up the fight, I felt when you feel you should do something and don’t…that feels worse, in terms of anxiety and stress on your mind than if you do actually do something to help. Feeling powerless in many ways is a far worse prison than being behind bars because you have to answer to Allah, while those in prison have an excuse. So when you see someone who needs help and you don’t do anything, you should feel anxious and restless. And sometimes thats all there is: you forget about the liability, the risk and danger to you if you get involved and just go because you know it will haunt you, both in this world and in the Akhira.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.

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