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Lessons from Ignorance: Part 3

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the-matrix.jpg“No man, there’s no sex in heaven.

“If heaven is a place where you can have anything you want, and if I want to have beautiful women, why can’t I?”

“I mean, yes, it’s true, it’s Paradise and you’ll have anything you want, and it’ll be great, but no one’s even going to want to have sex because, y’know, it’s heaven!

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If you couldn’t already tell by now, the ignorant daw’ah was coming from a 16-year-old version of myself, in response to a question asked by Kumar, a boarder from India staying at our home.  We had started off by talking about the rules of prayer and why I as a Muslim do it, and this eventually found it’s way to a discussion of what heaven was like.

At the time, it seemed perfectly illogical that a man would want to have sexual relations in heaven.  Heaven was a clean place where things like that didn’t happen.  Sex was a dirty thing (and the word itself was kinda dirty sounding, when you got right down to it) and didn’t belong anywhere near a discussion of the splendors of Paradise, or so I thought, at that time.

Over the course of fourteen years now, my perspective and understanding of this matter changed greatly, so knowing what I know now, I have to wonder, where did I form such values and ideas about heaven, and the actions that do or don’t take place there, what was appropriate or inappropriate.

Just for kicks, I thought I might try a word association game and see if that yielded anything fruitful.  When I think of heaven, I think of:

  • The movie Dogma (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck)
  • Pearly white gates
  • Old men with wings and halos over their heads
  • People walking on clouds
  • The color white everywhere

Hmmm, a lot of that simply doesn’t square with what I know now about Jannah.  I mean, for example, “til death do us part” is simply a temporary condition, and insha’Allah if both spouses make it to Paradise, they can spend eternity in happiness together.

And old men with wings?  Firstly, everyone is going to be 33 years old, and secondly, we’re not angels – angels are a separate creation of Allah subhaana wa ta’aala made from light, and they carry out various functions and tasks.

What about all that white everywhere, and the walking on the clouds bit?  Can’t say for sure about that, but I know there’s going to be gardens, and castles, and foliage, and Allah knows best what else too.

So where did all those wacked out ideas of heaven come from?

Red Pill or Blue Pill, Neo?

Abu Hurayrah reported that Allah’s Messenger sallallaahu alayhi wa sallim said:

“The mother of every person gives him birth according to his true nature.  It is subsequently his parents who make him a Jew, a Christian, or a Magian.  Had his parents been Muslim, he would have also remained a Muslim.”

Of course, while one’s parents do initially have the most impact on a child’s religious perspectives, that can change over time.  We’re constantly interacting and changing due to thousands upon thousands of environmental inputs from the company we keep, the schools we attend, the programs we watch, to the advertising we’re exposed to on a second-by-second basis.

What I find very fascinating is when we, as Muslims, share an idea or concept in common (like heaven) with another group, religion, or culture (like the Christians), and how the environment around us can potentially inform the manner in which we perceive that concept in our minds.

Let’s return back to my original question – where did my wacked out ideas of heaven come from?  Parents?  No.  School?  Maybe.  Friends?  Maybe.  How about…

Tom and Jerry!

Tom and Jerry?!  The cat and mouse who keep trying to kill each other?  Yes, the very same.  See, I knew there was a heaven, but no one quite filled in all the details, so of course, Tom and Jerry (and other children’s cartoons, some with people rather than animals) filled in the details with a twisted depiction of death and heaven according to Christianity, and so a lot of that was what I myself thought of heaven.

Now, I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy of American cartoons attempting to proselytize to Muslim children.  What I am saying is that when we share common concepts with other people, and we don’t properly define for ourselves how Allah and His Messenger have conveyed such concepts, someone will fill in the gaps, and believe me, you don’t want Mickey Mouse inadvertently teaching you or your children his fairy tale ‘Aqeedah.

How Far Down the Rabbit Hole Does This Go?

Of course, the concept of heaven is only one of numerous ideas we share with others.  Some other concepts include:

Justice:  This a common concept, and equality falls under that.  What do we think of equality between the genders, and what do other people think, in terms of their day-to-day rights and responsibilities?  In Western society, justice is to make the man and woman equal in their rights.  In Islam, justice is that the Creator assigns to each gender a role with responsibilities that he or she is well-suited to fulfill for the betterment of the individual, the family, and the community

Adulthood:  We consider a person who has hit puberty as eligible for marriage and an adult.  Western society has over the past 70 years moved away from this model to a more static model that enforces one age, 18, as the standard for adulthood for all people, regardless of biological indicators.  Taking advantage of this conditioning, some have used this to denigrate the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi  wa sallim as a pedophile because he consummated his marriage with Aisha (ra) when she was 9 (our definition of adulthood, hitting puberty).  It’s also caused some Muslims to try to prove that Aisha was in fact 18 when she consummated her marriage with the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallim.

Marriage:  In western society, we are taught that men and women can have as many relationships with as many partners as they wish, but they may only marry one.  In Islam, we’re taught that the only relationships can happen in marriage and that men can (theoretically) have up to four wives.  Our cousins are also viable prospects for marriage, whereas it is frowned upon in some parts of Western society, and not so in others (I recall my family always telling me, “You’re cousins are just like your sisters!” but then later would be like, “So, are you interested in marrying any of your cousins?”).

Free Your Mind

I’ve heard countless times from Western born Muslims when they see a practice from their Eastern brothers and sisters which are clearly jahiliyyah, they will comment by saying, “That’s not Islam, that’s their culture,” when referring to such issues as wife-beating, female circumsion, and honor killings.  I’m not disputing that, but what I would like to point out is that the brand of Islam we North Americans teach is potentially very colored and shaded a specific way due to the social and cultural influences surrounding us as well.  We are by no means immune to this, and we have to recognize this, or we’ll go down the same path, mixing up our Islamic values with our Western values.

If we truly want to step into reality as it should be, then we have to first search out and understand reality for what it is, and to do that, we need to understand how Allah subhaana wa ta’aala has defined reality and our place in it.  We also have to realize and deeply internalize that we really may not have all the answers, and we have to spend our lives learning and constantly re-adjusting and re-calibrating our understanding as new knowledge comes to light, and that’s where turning to people of knowledge comes in – spending time with them, either live or through lectures we can find online or purchase, insha’allah.  This is type of company we need to keep more often, and we really should make an effort to limit our interaction with useless companions like the TV (meaning, much of what’s on it), music, movies, friends who waste your time, etc.

The Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallim said:

“The example of a good pious companion and an evil one is that of a person carrying musk and another blowing a pair of bellows. The one who is carrying musk will either give you some perfume as a present, or you will buy some from him, or you will get a good smell from him, but the one who is blowing a pair of bellows will either burn your clothes or you will get a bad smell from him.”

I can say as someone who left movies and music (to which I was heavily addicted, along with video games) behind 6 years ago, that time has been spent learning so many new and fascinating things about the world as it relates to politics, leadership, personal development, physical health, Islam, and many other matters.  Although I’m by no means rich, I can easily donate my time towards helping others with daw’ah related projects as well.  And, best of all, I have to say the most benefit I’ve ever gotten from my time was spending it with advanced students of knowledge learning the Islamic Sciences.

Series Conclusion

We often hope to benefit from other people’s knowledge – I hope that my ignorance has given you beneficial knowledge, or at least, something to think about =)

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Siraaj is the Operations Director of MuslimMatters as well as its new lead web developer. He's spent nearly two decades working in dawah organizations, starting with his chapter MSA in Purdue University, and leading efforts with AlMaghrib Institute, MuslimMatters, and AlJumuah magazine. Somewhere in there, he finds time for his full-time profession as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He holds a bachelor's in Computer Science from Purdue University and a Master's certificate from UC Berkeley. He's very married and has 5 wonderful children

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ibn Masood

    July 28, 2008 at 5:42 AM

    Assalamualaikum

    Akhi… me and you share a VERY similar past, inshAllah maybe one day we can sit down somewhere, sometime and talk it over. If I don’t meet you, then inshAllah ta’ala in Jannah bi’ithnillah.

  2. Amad

    July 28, 2008 at 9:51 AM

    I have to say Tom & Jerry have always been my favorite cartoons. I guess I never thought about how they were effecting my mind about heaven, though in retrospect I can see how they might. Thus the importance of giving your kids the “right” information to balance out the nuanced messages that exist in cartoons (probably inadvertently for the most part).

  3. nisa

    July 28, 2008 at 12:09 PM

    I totally agree with pin-pointing the eastern muslims and most of the things they do as their culture. The article really puts in perspective that we face the same threat of mixing culture with religion. The only difference is adaptation of things from the west instead of the east. Really good one. Makes me question myself and a lot of things around me. Jazakallah khairun.

  4. Hassan

    July 28, 2008 at 12:44 PM

    What is significance of Matrix as a picture for this article? :D

  5. IbnAbbas

    July 28, 2008 at 1:20 PM

    “What is significance of Matrix as a picture for this article?”

    past > movies, games, tv > ignorance > Lessons

  6. abu abdurrahman

    July 28, 2008 at 1:29 PM

    SubhanAllah I’m surprised at how much this article sounds like me. I didn’t know that two people could think the same way. The only difference is that my experiences are way different and so I would have different examples in the above article. Nevertheless, the substance is the same.

  7. Siraaj

    July 28, 2008 at 10:14 PM

    Ibn Masood and abu abdurrahman
    I think a lot of us have a very similar past in this regard ;)

    Amad
    Heh, yeah, another Tom and Jerry reflection – bombs aren’t deadly!

    nisa
    It’s amazing, we come into this world, and there’s this status quo which we’re expected to accept as normal. case in point, yesterday for my wife’s school prestige academy, the history teacher is teaching american history from a different perspective – not the “winner’s perspective” but a more objective perspective that brings all events and their social, economic, and cultural context into play to provide a more complete picture of what happened.

    The same is true of us – how often do we emphasize what is politically correct while trying to (unsuccesfully) hide what is not?

    Hassan
    The point of the matrix references – the reality you perceive may not be completely true.

    Siraaj

  8. Abu Eesa

    July 29, 2008 at 8:16 AM

    Also, I wonder how much films like Star Wars has affected us on one side and Bollywood films on the other?
    Would be a good analysis/comparison…

  9. Muhammad

    July 29, 2008 at 11:16 AM

    the history teacher is teaching american history from a different perspective

    This reminds me, has anyone read People’s History of United States by Howrad Zinn? I’m not an American, but was hooked nonetheless.

    An excerpt from the book – a priest who traveled with Columbus on an expedition to Cuba is writing about what went on:

    Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas tells how “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”

    And further on he talks about what happened when the Arawaks were taken away as slaves:

    “Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides … they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation…. hi this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . .. and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile … was depopulated.”

    Also:

    “[In 1508] there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?”

    :S

  10. Siraaj

    July 29, 2008 at 2:08 PM

    That’s the book she’s using =)

    Siraaj

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