x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Loss in a time of excess

We are experiencing a time of loss. But how can this be when we witness the wheels of progress clambering away all around us. Man seems never to have possessed so much, or to have achieved such a degree of advancement.

We are experiencing a time of loss. But how can this be when we witness the wheels of progress clambering away all around us. Man seems never to have possessed so much, or to have achieved such a degree of advancement. The idea of human progress, ushered in by the likes of the 19th century British philosopher Herbert Spencer, was a completely new conceptual way of "reading" time. What has been termed by many others as the "myth of progress" is actually more an increase in quantity than anything else. There is quantifiably more objects, more data, more possessions, more mass than ever before in human history.

But how does this fit with the prophetic statement that, "the best generation is my generation; and then those who follow, and then those who follow them;" in a downward spiral of virtue. The Islamic world view of time seems to be going in an opposite and downward trajectory to that of the post-enlightenment moderns. They would see an upward climb to the trajectory of human advancement. But what we are witnessing is a metric increase in quantity against a conspicuous decrease in quality.

How smart would this generation really be without the internet? How able would we truly be without our mobile phones and GPS navigation? Despite all these time-saving devices and technological crutches we don't seem to be able to produce the truly great works of literature that we once did. Despite the "hipness" of our music, it lacks the sophistication of technique and artistic nuance of the classics. I suppose it would be redundant to mention the glaring nose-dive in language and ratiocination that seems to be the stamp of these first bits of the 21st century.

The Prophet Mohammed tells us of the conditions of the end of time: "God does not take knowledge from the earth by stripping it from the breasts of people. He takes away knowledge by taking away the scholars in death. Until there remains not one scholar, the people take leaders from the ranks of the ignorant. They are asked about public affairs; and without knowledge, they give their opinion. They are misguided and they misguide others."

What to do, when strategic planning requires a deep knowledge of both one's roots and sound aims and purposes beyond one's immediate horizons. We may have the ship, but without the keel, rudder, sail, or a map and sextant we will be lost on the high seas. In still another statement he prophesies: "When you see greed obeyed, every passion pursued, the material world preferred, and every opinionated person self-impressed with his own opinion, at that time you are advised to keep to yourself and leave public affairs, for before you are days that will require great patience."

He warns in yet another statement: "Woe to the Arabs for a troubling discord that draws near, like a portion of a dark night, a man will awake in the morning a believer and go to bed a disbeliever; he sells his religion for some cheap trinket of the world." In words of support he says that, "a time will come over the people when the person with the stamina and resolve to hold on to his religion will be as one holding on to a red hot coal".

And in a final message of encouragement he says: "For those who would be courageous enough to adhere to goodness and do wholesome works will be the reward of 50 of my companions; because they find help in doing what is right and those people will find no help or encouragement to do what is right." Jihad Hashim Brown is the director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.