I backdated this post so that the archives of ifoceanswereink would show an entry for December 2017. I’m actually writing this on January 2nd, 2018, just after coming back from India. This isn’t exegesis; I just promised myself I would do a personal update annually, so this one is for 2018. This was 2017’s update, by the way.
Consistency is a strange and foreign thing; my career aspirations used to change each year, but now I am quite determined to be a pediatrician, and I doubt that will change at any point. I’m applying to a couple internships with specializations in pediatrics and oncology, and working on a paper for a scientific journal–although my research has been delayed and will probably only finish this summer, after which all the tedious review work will begin. All of this may sound ridiculous, but high school students doing biomedical research are quite common at my school, which is well-known for its murderous academic environment.
I harbor this everpresent fear that all of this work will come to nothing; I don’t know where I will go to college, I cannot afford tuition, and my parents have told me quite clearly that I am not going to any college unless tuition is free. Which means applying for scholarships is the next order of action. These days I’m preparing talks and projects for school and reading biochemistry textbooks at Starbucks; this is the only environment I have ever known. All the schools I’ve attended have been cutthroat competitive. I like the challenge, but sometimes I’m exhausted.
As a resolution for 2018–but one that I will actually keep, inshallah–I have started reading the Quran from the beginning. I’ve read it already about 20 times of course, but rarely in order. I skip around and reread things and perform linguistic analysis, and sometimes it gets in the way of understanding the big picture. So that is what I’m doing. It seems to be helping, actually.
The way I understand it, exegesis and religious discussion are a moral obligation for me. One cannot sit around watching the current state of the Muslim masses and not feel compelled to do something. I write in my free time, which is precious and barely existent. I also draw and play Chopin waltzes and Mozart sonatas. It hit me last week that these are the last couple years of my life that I’ll be able to do all this; once I turn 18, piano pieces and complicated artwork will be no more. I’ll be too busy living as an adult. I will still write about Islam-related issuess, God willing, but these songs and these Prismacolor murals? Probably never again. Childhood–if that’s what you call it, though I’m hardly a child–dissipates quickly.
I am making slightly desperate attempts at optimism these days. The future terrifies me; I have two and a half years to get my entire life in order. But it’s not just me, it’s every kid in my graduating class of 2020.
I haven’t had time to write much exegesis recently; SAT scores have been taking up too much mental space. But a few things have caught my attention.
“Those who believe, and confuse not their beliefs with oppression and injustice–it is they who will prosper in guidance.” 6:82
The above is my own translation. The word for “oppression and injustice” in Arabic is zulm. Most translators consistently render it as wrongdoing, but linguistically, it does not mean mere wrongdoing. There are other words for that–a mushrik for instance is a religious wrongdoer, one who engages in polytheism.
Zulm is different. It refers to a grievous act of injustice, or of encroaching upon the rights of others. That is what this verse is warning against. If you truly believe in Allah, you will not belittle the sanctity of life.
Qur’an translations are full of the same mistakes. There are different words for different types of wrongdoing in Arabic, but translators render them all the same way. I could write pages and pages on this–entire books could be written on the variety of words the Qur’an uses to describe shades of love, hatred, fear, and harm. (There are two types of justice as well: qist and ‘adl. Khafa and khashya are different kinds of fear. Shahwah is lust whereas hubb is a certain type of dual-nature earthly and heavenly love.)
Regarding “wrongdoing” words: Fasaad denotes corruption or harmful mischief. Fitnah is similar but has a wider range of usage, and can refer to anything from a “difficult trial” to oppression depending on the context. Fahisha means severe sin or indecency, often sexual but not always. Shirk is idol worship. Zulm is unlawful infringement on the sanctity of life.
The sanctity of life is a principle I strive to uphold, and that is part of my motivation to be a doctor. I also want to do clinical research, perhaps on childhood leukemia, and to teach. I like teaching. It’s a way to combine writing and presentation with scientific material. I’m attentive at school and I’m fairly good at every subject, but writing and biomedicine are the two topics I’m focusing on.
On a random note, I have decided that if I ever have a daughter one day, I will name her Madina, and her middle name will be Isra.
In the end, life is an issue of literacy. We must be literate in our own perception of the world. It is also a duty to pass this literacy onto others. I want to end with remarks of optimism. It is New Year, after all. I have a question for you. You as in anyone reading this.
Do you think God wants to belittle you?
Dead silence. Of course you recoil in horror. Of course God does not engage in injustice. But ask yourself–honestly, do you convince yourself sometimes that God hates you and has a sadistic desire to belittle you?
If so, get that nonsense out of your head. It is affecting your ability to think and reason and understand Islam.
I had to remind myself of this over winter break. There is a hadith that says, in my translation:
“I am towards me servant as s/he thinks of Me. If s/he is eager to meet Me, I too will be eager to meet him.”
This is not a verse of the Qur’an, but I think it is a Qur’anic sentiment nonetheless. Too many of us are convinced that God hates us, actively and passionately, because of our gender or orientation or mental health or lack thereof–know that it’s a lie. Religious leaders’ greatest crime has been to convince us that God hates us and wants us, specifically, in exclusion of others, to suffer. That God wants to shackle our potential and mock us for no fault of ours.
Imams will never experience this, because traditionalist teachings are in their favor. But you all need to remember that God is Compassionate and Merciful and why would God violate God’s own laws and belittle you? In Islam, we are not even allowed to call each other offensive nicknames. Seriously, there are Qur’anic verses specifically prohibiting this. So why would you think God wants to hurt you and tell you you’re inferior and call you offensive things under no provocation? How does that even make sense?
I sound accusatory here. That is not my intention. I just need you to realize that if you’ve been fed the notion that God hates you, it will destroy your understanding of the text. Don’t fall prey to it.
I want to correct some other mistranslations before I go. Taqwa is always translated as fear of God, but it actually means “consciousness” or “awareness” of God. Immediate fear of God’s Wrath (in the event that you have sinned) is described by the Qur’an as khashya most of the time. It is different from taqwa, which is universal; we must always be conscious of God–whereas khashya is a circumstantial fear, driven by the fact that you have done something wrong and you know you will be held accountable.
Kufr is not necessarily disbelief but ungratefulness. Satan is described in the Qur’an as engaging in kufr, but he obviously believed in God; he spoke to God directly! Kufr is not rejection of the concept of God per se: It’s more like blatant disregard and animosity towards God’s blessings, and is associated frequently with zulm. When we are ungrateful, we don’t value the rights of others, and we infringe upon them. I will elaborate on this in later posts. This paragraph does not do the concept justice. (The word kafura is from the same root as kufr by the way, and means intense, burning ungratefulness; contrast this with shakura, which is intense, exhilarated gratefulness).
Some other words:
‘Adl is the type of justice that concerns itself with balance and equality. Qist is justice within a legal and societal framework. Of course they are not mutually exclusive; there is much overlap. See 4:3 for an example of how both words are used within the same verse.
I wish you all a happy New Year, and much prosperity in this life and the next, inshallah.
Also: Look at the header image on this post. Read it and cry. It was taken in Gaza I believe, and an acquaintance showed it to me. May Palestine be free.