Saturday, June 09, 2007

Reflections on Muslim Wake Up byline

This article was the very last article I wrote for MWU, it was never published. The site was taken down around this time. 

Reflections on Muslim Wake Up byline
Remove “prayer is better than sleep”

I love Muslim Wake Up, right from the time it started I felt that there is finally a place for me. To me Muslim Wake Up is a place for those who identify with their Muslim identity and heritage, want to celebrate their faith. I find joy in reading and observing the writings and comments of secular Muslims, progressive Muslims, spiritual or Sufi Muslims, agnostic Muslims, confused Muslims along with those of more traditional orthodox Muslim. For me, Islam is a journey of searching and learning and much of the contemporary main stream Islamic discourse is full of certainty; no search needed.

The “prayer is better than sleep” slogan or byline of MWU has always troubled me. I love the notion of waking up; the Islamic World has been asleep for centuries. After centuries of great contribution by Islamdom in science, philosophy, thought and much achievement towards human advancement, stagnations, reversals, and eventually rot have taken over. Islamic jurisprudence moved from being an example of sophisticated legal code with real examples of beauty and turned into cheap fetwa pronouncements dispensed left and right out of ignorance, for political gains or popular appeasement.  Waking up indeed is needed ..but what do we need to do when we wake up ..think, search, debate, build or pray?

I reflect further on the byline “Al Salat Khier min Al Noom” or “Prayer is better than sleep” and particularly on two words; “better” and “prayer”. In Arabic the word “Khier” encompasses an incredibly huge range of meanings like “good” or “goodness” do but not only. “Khier” has connotations of plenty, of purity, justice, compassion, and much more. Its use in the Quran and in everyday language in my native Egypt is truly beautiful. While I personally lack sufficient linguistic knowledge to make an exact pronouncement I would tend to say that “Khier” definitely encompasses more than good and better which would normally be translated into Arabic as “Gayeed” or “Agwad” (Jaeed or Ajwad”).

As to “Salat” the issue becomes much more complex. Is “Salat” used to mean the specific supplication and rituals required five times daily? Is Salat a more encompassing word including meditation, spiritual connection to God? Are they one and the same? Still the linguistic uncertainly over prayer vs. salat remains, this is mostly because of the common use of prayer in English of requesting or asking for something from God, a concept that is mostly excluded in “Salat” but covered in another Arabic word “Doaa’a”.

So, I continue to reflect on the byline “prayer is better than sleep”. Narrowly interpreted I fear it does not do MWU justice. MUW is about waking up, searching, expressing, it is about shedding centuries of mere unthinking conformance. MWU is certainly not about the passively asking God to make things better. I fully accept that deeper a look into the byline would find alternate meanings that are less inappropriate. Still I would argue that even those are not immediately accessible. Perhaps a byline that illustrate Islamic notions of forgiveness, compassion, universality or equality would be more appropriate. The Quranic commandment of searching for knowledge may fit in more with the sentiment of MWU.

Ayman S. Ashour
June 9, 2007