Passion vs. Emotion
In following the recent events in Libya I found myself thinking about what dramatic and strange times we live in. A dictator who lived his entire life beyond the reach of law or morality – who was possibly the richest person on earth – was killed in the most humiliating of manners for the world to see. Even with the innumerable resources and wealth he possessed he was unable to elude death and his ultimate, inescapable accountability before God. This is certainly a sign and a lesson for those who reflect.
Another, just as critical lesson can be learned from the actions of those who captured him. While it may be true that the Arab Spring cannot truly blossom until the choking weeds of oppression and corruption are removed, the deeds that were done to this man in the last moments of his life, and to his body after he died, cannot be justified.
It is understandable that emotions are running high – but to be frank, that is too often our defense and our excuse, one we fall into as individuals and as a worldwide community. From an over-zealous correction of a new Muslim’s mistake to the burning down of buildings over offensive cartoons – running on emotion, desiring immediate change, and hastily acting without consideration of consequence or even religious sanction is a deep and serious spiritual problem from which we are clearly suffering, and that is manifest in myriad ways.
Yes, emotions run high – but this world is filled with things that evoke emotion, and our lifetime from birth to death is a collection of emotional moments of good and bad, victory and loss, successes and disappointments. Our goal as Muslims is to make all things within ourselves, including our emotions, subject to an ubudiyyah – a loving surrender and submission to God Most High. Our hearts are susceptible to being moved and to change and flip flop with the currents that such feelings bring (The word for heart in Arabic, qalb, is even derived from the act of turning and constantly changing) – but we ask God to give us thabaat, steadfastness on the truth and on His deen and to make that our steady and constant guide through the sometimes murky currents and overwhelming waves of this life.
We saw in Libya – as we do in many other places in the world today – the power of emotions, and the real need each and every one of us has to beseech God for His constant help and guidance in dealing with them.
Those who engage in contrived plans to target airports and the like in the West also do so out of a deep sense of emotion: when our brothers and sisters are suffering, they argue, we too suffer. When we see them in various places across the world impoverished, under occupation, facing military aggression or under the stifling yokes of other forms of oppression, some deep part of them is touched, they argue, and is moved to act.
However what must be understood is that the heat of such emotions must be tempered by the teachings of our faith, by calm deliberation, and by a mind and heart cognizant of Allah and His All-Seeing, All-Knowing nature. There is a desperation that colors these acts of vigilante ‘justice’ – a grasping at vengeance that belies a faith in a higher power, and knowledge that there are things that are beyond us and our abilities. To think that one must take justice into one’s own hands no matter what the cost is arrogating to oneself more than what God asks of us. It also fails to take into consideration that everything that happens does so within God’s knowledge and will, that there is wisdom in everything He decrees, and His final judgment in the Hereafter will set aright any wrong, however small, that was committed in this life.
Would that the Libyan fighters had taken the example of Ali, who, when an adversary in battle spit in his face, stepped away from killing him out of fear for his intentions and said, “My struggle is for God and not for any personal sense of vengeance.”
Would that those vulnerable youth whose hearts burn for the oppressed shun the video-game like rhetoric of forces of good and evil, and instead roll up their sleeves to work on a long-term, strategic course of positive action, in complete accord with the teachings of our deen, that would bring real and lasting change to the local and then the world scene.
How easy to get tripped up in emotion and fall into the moment, and how much harder to sublimate that emotion or efface it entirely for a greater good, a higher calling, and a God-conscious sense of accountability. This is certainly not as exciting a battle, but this quieter, and at times more bitter struggle for the sake of God is what is real, true, and noble. This is the good fight, and not lashing out of emotion with the gilded coating of doing something ‘for the Muslims’ or ‘fisabilillah’ (in the way of God). This is what is meant in the text that is attributed to the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wa salam), that on returning from battle he said, ‘we are going from the lesser jihad to a greater one’ – referring to the everyday battle with one’s lower self, and its emotions, desires, drives and clawing needs.
We can and should be passionate people – who believe strongly in the truth and work diligently for good. But as the luminary Imam al-Ghazali said: be sure you are riding the horse and not that the horse is riding you. Meaning, make sure that you are harnessing your feelings and passions, and using them as motivation in your positive efforts, and not that your lower self is blindly leading you to the broken path of His disobedience and ultimately, His displeasure. Let us be passionate, but not emotional – galvanized by our feelings but not blinded and misled by them.
May He, the Most High, bless us with maturity, calmness, wisdom, and strength and courage to work for good, for His sake alone. May He grant us the cool breeze of thabaat, firmness on truth and justice, even in the heat of anger or emotion. May He keep our hearts firmly on His faith. Ameen.