A tribute to my brother in law…
Ever since 2016 the global news headlines have only really focused on three topics: Brexit, Trump, and now the coronavirus. Occasionally the topic of Islam sneaks its way to the top of the news broadcast, if only for a day or two, and never in a good way. The most recent example is that of Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old French history-geography professor and secondary school teacher, who was horrifically decapitated outside his school on Friday 16th of October in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 25km north-west of Paris.
Paty also gave the obligatory courses in “moral and civil education” and it was as part of these, on Tuesday the 6th of October, while talking about freedom of speech that the professor showed pupils, aged 12 to 14, two caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad originally published by the controversial satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Paty offered Muslim students the chance to leave his classroom before showing the cartoons. Despite this his lesson was followed not only by complaints from a number of parents (one family even lodged a legal complaint) but a video was also uploaded by a parent to the internet. Police further confirmed the teacher had been the target of threats ever since this incident.
His killer was Abdullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old from Moscow of Chechen origin, who lived some 60 miles away and thus had no obvious connection to the school. Anzorov was shot dead by police shortly after the attack. The killing stunned France and led to an outpouring of support at memorial ceremonies and marches around the country. President Emmanuel Macron hailed Paty as “a quiet hero” and “the face of the Republic” at a recent event in Paris. He then presented the teacher’s family with the nation’s highest honour, the Légion d’honneur. Macron has gone on to say that France’s battle against Islamic terrorism is “existential” and he vows to make sure terrorists do not cause further division in France, which has a resolutely secular civic culture.
It is difficult to convey the sheer horror of the decapitation. Such extreme violence is designed to terrorise and traumatise, and so it does, to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. However, and please believe me when I say this, for every one Muslim such as Anzorov there are literally thousands of Muslims who are the complete opposite: kind, caring, compassionate, law abiding, and loving.
One such person was Shezan Hussain, my brother-in-law who passed away recently on Tuesday the 6th of October, the same day Paty gave his lesson on freedom of speech. Shezan leaves behind a widow, an 8-year-old daughter, a 2-year-old son, and a grieving family. His death has come as a sudden shock to us all, something we will never truly be able to comprehend. I know it is common for people to over-eulogise someone after they pass away, but he was genuinely one of the good ones. He loved my two sons as much as any uncle could, and for that alone I pray for him nothing but Paradise. For those of you who are religious, please also pray for him.
He was buried in Handsworth cemetery in Birmingham on Sunday the 18th of October. Standing there in the grounds of the cemetery I looked around and realised it was impossible to know who the richest person in the graveyard was. No idea as to who was humble, arrogant, black, white, pious, sinful, or anything else. The only thing for sure is that they are down there and I, for the time being, am still above ground. For the time being.
Such was the intensity of events that my eldest son, a teenager, my first born, my own flesh and blood, fainted at the graveyard whilst the selected group of mourners stood over his grave, both hands held open and aloft, praying for our brother/cousin/uncle/nephew/brother-in-law * (delete as appropriate). In a split second my son transformed before my very eyes from a living teenage boy to a dead weight. Happily, he is feeling much better now. My son only fainted yet my heart just went. I found myself shaking, trembling, breathing erratically, trying to hold back my tears. It was only then that I thought God only knows how my mother-in-law must be feeling knowing her youngest, her baby, has actually passed away.
I hope Shezan understands how lucky he is to have such a prestigious Islamic funeral, one where a great number of people showed such love and care to his deceased body as well as to his memory. I honestly believe that Islam is the only religion that offers such love to the body of someone who passes away.
I would like to dedicate this blog post (and any good that comes from it) to Shezan. Please find below selected quotes from my favourite Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. I hope they act as a reminder to Muslims like myself and, who knows, maybe non-Muslims will get a spiritual kick out of them too. Read them and see. I hope that by benefitting myself and others in this life, they somehow benefit my dearly departed brother-in-law in the next life. Rest in peace, Shezan. And, considering all that is going on, enjoy…
My mother basically taught myself and my brothers and sisters that religion is often very an arbitrary thing, that you’re born into a family and you’re told certain things and you grow up believing those things to be true. But it’s really in essence far more arbitrary then we’d like to imagine. And so she really raised us to be open-minded about the possibility of truth being outside of one’s own experience.
One of the things about practice is that practice should make us better at what we’re doing, but we forget that spirituality is also a practice and that we should be getting better at what we’re doing. Our prayers should be more present. Our fasting should get us closer to our Lord. Each year that Ramadan comes upon us should be better than the year that preceded it. This is our hope and may Allah realize it in us.
You have to know before you can love. And then once you love you want to serve. That is the nature of love.
You have to have scholars that are really deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition. We’re not living in the pre-modern times, we are living in a completely different period, and it’s not reforming or changing Islam, it’s actually taking the tools of the religious tradition and revitalising them. And so in that way it’s renewal, which our Prophet talked about, renovation, which is called ‘tajdeer’ in the Arabic language. So we need renovation, which is not to destroy the house and rebuild a new house but to restore the dereliction of the house, so that it is functioning. You turn on the faucets and water comes out. You flush the toilet…there’s a lot of toilets that need to be flushed.
When it comes to knowledge and understanding, there are four types of people, there is no fifth. First there are those who know and know they know, and those are teachers, so learn from them. Second there are those who know and do not know they know, and those are people that are heedless of their knowledge, so remind them so that we can all benefit from them. Third there are those who do not know and know they do not know, and those are students, so teach them. Fourth there are those who do not know and think they know, and those are fools, so avoid them. And this fourth category is a problem, jahil-murakah, it is one of the six foundations of kufr, compounded ignorance. And we all suffer from compounded ignorance at some level. Nobody is immune to that. We can misunderstand things and think we have understood them. But when that is your overriding problem then you have a serious problem.
Western people think that religion is a scaffolding that we built our civilization with and now that it’s built we can get rid of the scaffolding. I think there’s a very strong argument that it is the civilization, and if you get rid of it you’re left with buildings that are devoid of meaning. I think that’s what a lot of Western people are struggling with. The Muslims don’t have that crisis. Their crisis is that buildings are derelict but they still have meaning in them. And they don’t have the wherewithal to renovate. Renovation is a beautiful word, because in the Islamic tradition people are called to renovate, to renew.
We can’t determine our circumstances but we can determine our responses to our circumstances, and I think that is the essential meaning: if you really truly believe then no matter what God throws at you, like Job, Ayoub in the Qur’an, no matter what God throws at you, you do not question God. And this for the Muslim is absolutely essential, that the verse in the Qur’an says God will not be asked about what He does but you will be asked about what you do.
I didn’t choose the family I came into. My family was highly educated so that enabled me, for instance my language skills are just going to be naturally better because I grew up listening to articulate parents. I didn’t choose those, so each one of us gets circumstances that we are given but what we do with those circumstances, this is what is going to determine the merit or the medal of our character.
We can actually bring calamities and tribulations upon ourselves. We bring calamities upon ourselves and then we blame others for it. It’s like somebody who eats poorly and they don’t exercise and they do all these horrible things and they don’t rest enough. And then they get sick and they say “Oh, Allah has tried me with illness.” The reality of it is that YOU made yourself ill. So if you were exercising, if you were eating well, if you were getting good sleep, if you were doing all the right things, and then you got sick, that’s ibtidah from Allah. But if you aren’t doing any of those things and then you get sick, you have no one to blame but yourself. And that’s why the Prophet said “Whoever finds good let him praise Allah (because all good is from Allah), but whoever finds other than good let him only blame himself.” This is a sahih hadith.
There are insane Christians that say they represent Christianity. Did Rabbi Kahane represent Judaism? Baruch Goldstein, who killed all those people in the masjid: did he represent Judaism? There are a lot of people who claim to represent something. They don’t represent anybody but themselves.
The crisis of this ummah is to do with adab, which is a loss of prioritisation, because when you put yourself first, everything else is chaos. When you are your major concern, everything else is chaos. This is not to negate the concept of taking care of your soul, but in reality taking care of your soul is taking care of other souls. Taking others into consideration, that’s nurturing your own soul, that’s how you work on yourself.
When you understand people’s nature it helps you to be more compassionate with them, it helps you to understand them better.
The one that knows his self knows his Lord. If you know your servanthood, if you know your dependence then you understand the independence of God. If you know your insignificance then you understand the significance of God. If you know your place in the world then you understand the place that God should have in your heart. That self-knowledge is very important.
We are now witnessing the disintegration of the family in the West. One of the things that really strikes me—I was just in Turkey, and people just look normal. And when I come back to my country, I feel like I’m in a freak show. What I realized recently was I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that in the Muslim world children still grow up with two parents and the mother is actually home so they get all the attention they need when they’re young and they don’t need to do all these attention-grabbing antics when they get older. Whereas in the West so many people don’t get that attention when they’re young so they spend the rest of their life looking. “Look at me, I have to tattoo my whole body to get people to look at me because I didn’t get the gaze of the significant other when I was a child so now I need the gaze of the insignificant others as an adult.” The Qur’an is an incredible book. It is in essence our GPS on the road of life. In essence it is a book that provides us with a map and, with guided direction, it literally tells you what to do. It is a book that takes a great deal of time to learn how to access. It is not something that comes immediately to you but it will begin to open itself up to you the more you give to it. The more you give to the Qur’an the more it will give back to you.