Featured image: caligraphy by Haji Nor Deen Ma.

A quick note before we begin: I am not actually delivering a khutbah (a sermon) in the traditional sense of the word, where it has to be orally given. But since this is my chosen platform, I’m doing the next best thing, which is to deliver a public message / advise / reminder, to all Muslims celebrating eid this year, in writing.

Bismillah (in the name of God), the most compassionate, and the most merciful.

As people of the world adjust to a new reality set upon us by the Covid-19 pandemic, we retreat to isolate ourselves physically, but we have certainly not isolated ourselves from our communities.

Thanks to technology, we remain communally connected to others. The way we have transposed our physical realities to the virtual has been nothing but remarkable, it’s magic. Why magic? Because magic is really just formally explained science. We experience this magic every day we switch on our devices – our door to the digital realm – enabling our digital selves to interact with other digital bodies.

If we go back in time to the medieval ages with our smart phones, we’d very likely be accused of wizardry and witchcraft. And if you are female, you are more likely to be captured and burned on a stake. Humans fear what they do not understand. The fires and pitchforks come with imagined fears of the unknown.

Which part of this whole digital experience isn’t magic? Since the lockdowns began, I have been caved up in my home, only going out for groceries and getting essential items. I have been super lucky to have a job that enables me to work remotely. I have been in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, while my colleagues are located all over the world. Others have not been so lucky, a reminder for us all to think about digital accessibility in all the ways that we are working, organising, and collaborating online.

But the message that I would like to focus on today is our return to the real meaning of jihad (the struggle), and the greatest jihad of all, which is the jihad to combat the Self.

The Pause – Putting the Ego in the Back Seat

A lot of us live our lives believing we are the center of the universe. This is not entirely our fault. It is the result of our conditioning. Furthermore, developing consciousness over our inner and outer Self is not an active subject in our education system.

But it is easy to know if we have developed at least some kind of consciousness over the Self. There is a way to know if the Ego – what we believe about ourselves – is in the driver’s seat of our consciousness. All we have to do is to look at how our minds and bodies react to emotionally activating situations or incidents. Some of you may know this as “triggers”.

If you observe your mind and body reacting to these incidents by personalising everything, even when those things are not personal to you, it is very likely that your Higher Self has been suppressed and been relegated to the back seat, and your Ego is driving the vessel that is your body.

One way to reverse this is by taking a moment to breathe and not react immediately to things that emotionally calls for our response.

I call this moment The Pause.

We should all have more moments of The Pause. Like how Mama Earth has called for a pause in Her destruction in the name of “productivity” by giving us Covid-19. Capitalism did not just alter the course of economics, it has altered the way we do politics and envision society.

The overt focus on inflating our egos based on superficial matrices like material wealth and conventional beauty. All the while, we never stop to pause and think, “hey, this is not about me”. See below for some examples.

Have you ever felt misunderstood? The ego just wants to fight that, doesn’t it?

“How dare they misunderstand me!” the ego says.

Try… The Pause.

“If what they are saying about me isn’t true, do I really need to manage the perception of others? That is a battle I will never win.”

Have you ever felt jealous of other people’s happiness? The ego just feels like it’s being left out, doesn’t it?

“That happiness should belong to ME!” the ego says.

Try The Pause.

“Glad to see they’re doing so well! I will work on myself and I know I will get my own happiness, too.”

Feeling emotionally activated over a political view you don’t agree with?

“How could she support #undirosak? Those votes belong to the party *I* support! How dare she deny OUR party those votes!” the ego says.

However, The Pause would say: “Wait a minute, this isn’t about me or my party. Why do these people feel they don’t have a choice in this election? What is it about my party that they feel we don’t deserve their precious votes?”

Do feminist muslims who distance themselves from patriarchal interpretations of Islam make you angry?

“How dare she believe the hair is not aurat! How dare she practice her own ijtihads (independent reasonings on Islamic jurisprudence)! How dare she reasoned that women have equal rights as men to become heads of families or Imams! This is deviant!” the ego strikes again. Often angrily.

Hold it right there, brothers and sisters.

Observe the ego in this situation and ask if we really have a right to monopolise the paths that lead to heaven. Feminist muslims, both men and women, may not practice Islam in the way that is familiar or even understandable to you, but are they really deviant for being different? As long as they believe in tauhid, the Oneness of God, and believe in the messengers of God, they are muslims and do not deserve unfair hatred. Even if they aren’t muslims (in your view), nobody deserves unfair hatred.

Throughout Ramadan this year, I had tuned in to Narasi TV’s program Shihab & Shihab almost every day, featuring the renowned and respected Islamic scholar from Indonesia, Professor Muhammad Quraish Shihab; hosted by his daughter, Najwa Shihab.

One episode really struck me. It was an episode on the paths to Heaven, and how the Quran teaches us to be at peace with others because God’s paths are many and the ultimate path – the siratul mustaqim (the wide straight path), is one that is wide beyond our comprehension.

Damailah dengan diri anda, damailah dengan orang lain, damailah dengan semua makhluk, itu adalah jalan menuju surga. Semua jalan-jalan kecil menuju tuhan mengantar ke siratul mustaqim, jalan lebar yang lurus. Siratul mustaqim itu jalannya satu, tapi bisa menampung aneka pejalan kerana dia lebar.

Professor Quraish Shihab, scholar in the sciences of the Quran, author of the series of tafsirs – Tafsir al-Mishbah. Quote taken from an episode of Shihab & Shihab, a program on Narasi TV.

The messages of learned scholars such as Professor Quraish Shihab can be extended to existential questions like: “do we really have ownership over heaven and hell?”

You will find in many Islamic texts that the answer to this question is absolutely not. Nobody, except for God, has the right to cast anyone to heaven or hell. Entrance to heaven is the sole prerogative of God alone. So why then our bodies often react like we have that ownership?

The answer is because the ego personalises everything, even things that are not personal to us, in order to fulfill an unmet emotional need. Perhaps the unmet need here is a lack of control over our own spiritual lives, hence the ego manifests itself with the need to control the lives of others, often by force.

If this happens, you know what to do.

That’s right.

Pause.

Breathe.

Reflect.

Observe The Pause before that outburst over our egos getting hurt by a truth we refuse to see.

Observe The Pause before that angry tweet or upset comment over a reality we are not ready to deal with.

Observe The Pause before terminating a friendship over a petty argument.

Remove the ego from any situation and the root problems will become much clearer.

Shameless plug alert: my brother took this candid photo of me on the day of raya this year, which I think illustrates how The Pause looks like.

Resilience is love in the face of hatred

In the face of hatred, it is easy to go with the ego and hate back. Admittedly, I used to that a lot. I don’t do it anymore, especially after my knowledge increased and found out that hatred is also very profitable.

Online content goes a lot more viral when hatred drives it, hence, more advertisement revenue. The business model of social media platforms creates the economic structure with which hate speech and disinformation thrives on. I wouldn’t be surprise at all if anything I post here gets taken out of context designed to manipulate the masses emotionally so that the algorithms can do their magic.

It is important to note here the BIG difference between hatred aimed at injustice and hatred aimed at the powerless.

When we observe The Pause, we mind that difference very well.

Are we really reacting out of a clear sense of justice? Or are we really just reacting out of bruised egos?

That’s how to make the personal political – a famous rallying-cry of feminists since the 1960s. However, after decades of that slogan becoming iconic, it seems that we have forgotten the real essence behind it. We forget that if egos are at the center, then it is just personal, nothing political.

With that, I have come to the end of this online sermon. It is my hope to see women delivering actual sermons on public religious altars some day, in recognition of their equal intellect and scholarship to men. As always, I send prayers to Allah that one day women would re-assert their economic, political and social power in every society that they’re a part of.

Thank you for reading. May God grant us good in the dunya (world) and the akhirat (afterlife).

Selamat hari kemenangan (melawan ego), everyone.