Twinning Activism & Mobilization with Wonder

Twinning Activism & Mobilization with Wonder

Mawlana Saaleh Baseer

What if Muslims were to see their existence as an axis of multiple realms (multaqa al ‘awālim)? Shaykh Amin has proposed a question thatseeks to challenge our fundamental notions about ethics, religion, and survival. That is: How will humans continue to hold breath in a world so incredibly disenchanted it cannot even witness itself? More consequently, how is it that Muslims– more than a billion tall– continue to mobilize around a single doctrine, a singular wellspring? How do Muslims, despite mounting death tolls, continue to unfold beauty, in the dust of their own hands, and within the afterlives of those that precede them? In other words: How are Muslims surviving, Shaykh Amin asks. Never mind prospering.

While one end of Muslim discourse is politics-enchanted (uncritically seeing the modern state with its coercive control as “natural”) that it is forbidden from eyeing the reaches of the ego, the opposite end (the ‘anti-egoists’) of the axis–with a great deal of irony– naturalizes the miseries of the modern world as simply another spiritual battle to overcome. Shaykh Amin rightfully tempers us to maintain the balance—both the ego and the state have reached new forms of wretchedness, and we must cultivate the Islamic response accordingly, in a fashion akin to Khwaja Baqi Billah and his successor Ahmad Sirhindi, the two foremost Naqshbandis in Hindustan, who reconstituted the moral order for the nascent Mughal society, nearly five hundred years ago.

Shaykh’s expertise as a Qadi of that same society comes to life here in his prosecution of the current moment– there is a supremely curious element in the life-force of Islam: au contraire to the Lutherans and its tribes, the ritual and the legal is in fact an incredible driving force for the ethical. Our fasting, interpolated only by the moon, spurs new ethical fronts, Shaykh Amin states, indeed, new ethical horizons.

Shaykh’s eyes (chashm-i hayrat) oscillate within sociology and theology: he wants Muslims to meditate on the aporia of the ‘modern’ Mulim. Notwithstanding the material and philosophical assaults launched against Islam, in almost every direction (sans above?), how does one month unite a billion humans within one rhythm? Shaykh Amin, elliptically, is saying there is no Akhlaq without Iman nor Iman without Akhlaq– and indeed we should see the breaths of Ramadan as ones of absolute reckoning. For there is no moral order, liberal or paraliberal, that could offer such cooperation (ta’āwun and tahāwur), such singular intra-discourse, such anchored perseverance in the face of live-streamed death, other than the order handed by Prophet ‎ﷺ.

innaka la’alā khuluq ‘ażīm! wa al-yad al-‘ulyā khayr min al-yad al-suflā

“In truth you are of sublime ethics”

Ethical values do not age (do they not only become refined over time, like the fairūz in the river-bed?)– and Ramadan, Shaykh Amin reminds us, is one of our highest values. Ramadan is alive and we must be alive to the constant life-giving it streams on us every year– how does Ramda, that is, intolerable heat, provide so much healing and renewal for Muslims? For Allah is al-Muhyi and Al-Mumit.

To engage in a final istidrād, Shaykh Amin urges Muslims to twin their activism and mobilization with wonder (tahayyur; hayrat)– in almost all Muslim spaces across America, we have lost our ability to unleash our most foundational value, and only a master seasoned in the three sages (‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jeelani, Shah Waliullah, and Ibn ‘Arabi) could resurrect this eternal virtue. Our engagement and activism cannot meet the Abu Lahabs without the heaven-shattering wonder of Sayyiduna ‘Abu Bakr and Sayyiduna ‘Umar. For Allah says in the Quran: wa kharra Mūsā sa’iqa, or Musa kneeled down, thunder-struck!


The mirror-holder is the same and the rays that burst forth. I hope you will allow me to present a Persian couplet I penned:

hamā āinā mulattakh wa man chē qadar ranjūr
ze chasm-i aīna āyad suratgar-i digar

the mirror became smudged and how grieved I was
from the eyes of the mirror another form-maker arrived

Saaleh Baseer is a doctoral candidate in Harvard’s dual History & Middle Eastern program. His interests are housed in the Hanafi legal regime and political theology of the Mughal/Timurid and Ottoman empires. He received his BA from Columbia University in History, specializing in Mughal and Ottoman eras. His MA at University of Chicago focussed on Mughal emperors Shah Alam II and Aurangzeb, and Persian poetry, at the Center for Middle East Studies, and creative writing. 

Saaleh is training as a Mufti at Darul Qasim College, having spent three years writing fatwas, or legal rulings, on various topics as Islamic divorce law, Islamic ritual law, Islamic bioethics, and Islamic finance, while also traditionally-reading texts of Shah Waliullah and Taha Abderrahmane and Maturidi theology.

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