The Lark Ascending and The Soul’s Ascension

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

It is now four years since my late father, (Al-Hajj Al-Haafidh) Syed Shahid Ali, passed away. (In this connection, interested readers might want to read the tribute I wrote to him on Friday 24 May 2013.)

As I stated in a post commemorating my reflections last year entitled “Of Gardens of Peace, Manifold Graces and Seizing The Time“, much has happened in the intervening period, some of it good and some of it not so good, but all of it as viewed from my limited human perspective.

In what follows, I want to reflect briefly on some of the apparent good that has taken place since the post from the previous year. Once again, I have been blessed by God/Allah with a number of opportunities to further develop and apply my (Islamic) decolonial thinking in various settings.

  1. I was invited to become a moderator of the Decolonial Islamic Studies Facebook group which was established in Summer 2016 and which now has 3500+ members.
  2. I gave an invited talk entitled “An Introduction to Islamic Decoloniality” at the Decolonise Not Diversify Festival in Birmingham on 8 October 2016.
  3. I presented a paper entitled “Heidegger and the Islamicate: Transversals and Reversals” at the Heidegger in the Islamicate World international conference which took place at the University of Bern in Switzerland on 2-4 November 2016. A revised version of this paper is to be included as a contribution for a forthcoming book in the New Heidegger Series.
  4. I gave an invited lecture entitled “Islam and Decoloniality” as part of the Islam and Liberation Theology Series at Oxford University on 29 November 2016.
  5. I gave an invited lecture entitled “The Decolonial Question Concerning Computing” at the Can Science Be Decolonised? KCL WiSTEM Conference in London on 18-19 March 2017.
  6. I gave an invited presentation entitled “Decolonising Computing” at the 6th eSTEeM Annual Conference: STEM Futures – Supporting Students to Succeed, Towards a Framework for Inclusive STEM Education at The Open University, Milton Keynes, 25‐26 April 2017.
  7. I have had an extended abstract entitled “Decolonizing Information Narratives: Entangled Apocalyptics, Algorithmic Racism and the Myths of History” accepted for presentation at DTMD 2017 – the 6th International Difference That Makes a Difference Conference, part of the IS4SI-2017 Summit: Digitalisation for a Sustainable Society at Gothenburg, Sweden on 12 – 16 June 2017.
  8. I have had an extended abstract entitled “Transhumanism and/as Whiteness” accepted for presentation at the Transhumanism- The Proper Guide to a Posthuman Condition or a Dangerous Idea? Workshop, part of the IS4SI-2017 Summit: Digitalisation for a Sustainable Society at Gothenburg, Sweden on 12 – 16 June 2017.

Truly a huge barakah from The Most High.

Unfortunately, I have not yet had an opportunity to visit the grave of my father at the Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery this year since my mother has recently been somewhat unwell, but we will visit there soon, after Ramadhan and Eid-ul-Fit, insha’Allah.

I should like to end this post with the following piece of music which continues to move me and which made me think of my father when I recently listened to it:

Peace

Of Gardens of Peace, Manifold Graces and Seizing The Time

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Gardens of Peace Tree

It is now three years since my late father, (Al-Hajj Al-Haafidh) Syed Shahid Ali, passed away. (Interested readers might want to read the tribute I wrote to him on Friday 24 May 2013.)

Much has happened in the intervening period, some of it good and some of it not so good, but all of it as viewed from my limited human perspective.

Last year, I reflected upon some of the apparent good in a post entitled ‘REFLECTION: Of Death, Time and Certainty‘, where I referred, among other things, to the development and presentation of a short course in Granada, Spain in April 2014 entitled “Towards an Islamic Decoloniality“.

Since I wrote that post, I have been blessed by God/Allah with a number of opportunities to further develop and apply my (Islamic) decolonial thinking in various settings. Continue reading

REFLECTION: Of Death, Time and Certainty

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Dad's Grave

It is now two years and one week since my late father, (Al-Hajj Al-Haafidh) Syed Shahid Ali, passed away. (Interested readers might want to read the tribute I wrote to him on Friday 24 May 2013.)

Much has happened in the intervening period, some of it good and some of it not so good, but all of it as viewed from my limited human perspective.

Among the apparent good has been the opportunity to develop and explore in an invited academic setting what a specifically Islamic decoloniality might look like, to deepen my understanding about the nature of Racism (White Supremacy) and its relationship to anti-blackness from a Qur’anic / Islamic perspective, and, more recently, the discovery of the philosophical and theological contributions of the 12th century Andalusian Sufi mystic and intellectual giant, Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad ibn al-ʿArabī al-Ḥātimī aṭ-Ṭāʾī (25 July 1165 – 8 November 1240), popularly known as ibn ‘Arabi and affectionately referred to as “Shaykh Al-Akbar” (The Greatest Teacher).

As to that which I might deem as not so good, I shall pass it over in silence.

Last Sunday, I visited the grave of my father with my mother and wife, where we made supplications to God / Allah on his behalf and reflected on the fleeting nature of human existence in this, “the nearer world” (ad-dunya). In this connection, I should simply like to share two suwar (chapters, ‘enclosures’) from The Qur’an [=Final Proclamation of God / Allah to Humanity], the first of which I quietly recited at my father’s graveside during our visit:

(102:1) Competition in [worldly] increase diverts you
(102:2) Until you visit the graveyards.
(102:3) Nay, but soon you will know.
(102:4) Again, nay, but soon you will know.
(102:5) Nay, but if you only knew with a knowledge of certainty.
(102:6) You will surely see the hellfire.
(102:7) Moreover, you will surely see it with the eye of certainty.
(102:8) Then you will surely be asked that day about [this life’s] pleasure.

(103:1) By the passage of time [which is running out],
(103:2) Indeed, the human being is in a state of loss,
(103:3) Except for those who are securely committed to God / Allah, and have acted in a manner which is constructive / reparational [to ‘self’ and ‘other’], and exhorted one another on the basis of that which is right / real / abiding, and exhorted one another to perseverance / fortitude / steadfastness.

Peace

The Interconnected Lives of Three Men

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

TIL.JPG

(L-to-R: Malcolm X / Malik Al-Shabazz, Muhammad Ali, Syed Shahid Ali)

One of the most stirring pieces of music – that is, sound that promotes constructive thinking – that I have ever heard is the following soul masterpiece:

This song, written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed, and later popularized by Whitney Houston, was originally recorded by Benson for the 1977 Muhammad Ali biopic, “The Greatest“.

Whenever I hear this piece, I recall just how much my late father admired the boxing achievements of Muhammad Ali and closely followed his exploits in the ring, no doubt because Muhammad Ali was, like my father, a non-white male and (attempted) Muslim.

Thinking of Ali, in turn, makes me think of his at one time close relationship with the late Malcolm X, a veritable giant of a man whose life was tragically cut short as he began to broaden and deepen the scope of his individual and organisational struggle against the unjust globally operating system of White Supremacy (Racism).

Thinking of Malcolm X brings me back to my father who had the good fortune of briefly meeting him in 1964 or 1965 during the former’s trip to London. I fondly recall how shocked I was when my father first informed me of this around 30 years ago, the evening he came home with a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a book that I was to read shortly after.

Three men whose lives inter-twined. May God / Allah have mercy on them all. Ameen.

Peace

A Tribute to My Late Father

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Syed Shahid Ali (1930-2013)

On Monday 20 May 2013, my elderly father, (Al-Hajj Al-Haafidh) Syed Shahid Ali, aged 82 years passed away in a South London hospital.

His funeral took place two days later on Wednesday 22 May at the Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery in Hainault, Ilford.

In what follows, I should like to share with interested readers a brief account of his life and death.

Life

My father was born in 1930 in Jodhpur, India to a large and relatively affluent family tracing its ancestry to Iran. However, while my father led a rich and interesting life, it was not an easy one.

To begin with, he was sent alone to Saudia Arabia by his father at the age of 8 years to memorize The Qur’an (i.e. become a haafidh) and only returned to India 4 years later, speaking fluent Arabic yet having almost forgotten his mother tongue (Urdu). Unfortunately, during his stay in Saudia Arabia, my father was treated like a servant and sometimes beaten. This experience left behind a number of deep scars, not least of which was the sense of abandonment associated with him being sent as a very young child to a foreign land.

Another traumatic episode in his life took place in 1947 during the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. My father was 17 years old at the time and the last member of his family to leave India for Karachi when he was arrested and imprisoned. Apparently, my father was good at making crystal radio sets and this ability led to his being suspected of spying for the Pakistan Muslim League. During his time in prison, he was tortured by Hindu officers and was only able to secure his release through the intervention of a Sikh prison guard. Again, this traumatic experience haunted him throughout his life, resulting in a dislike, if not outright hatred, of Hindus and a resolve never to return to India.

After studying at the University of Karachi, my father spent a brief time at Al-Azhar in Egypt attending various Islamic conferences as a member of a Pakistani delegation before traveling to England to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. Seven years later, he married my mother, a white revert to Islam; nine years after that, I was born, followed by my sister three years later.

I remember my father as a very organised and punctual man who worked hard to provide for his family. During his period of residence in the UK, he had a number of jobs including working part-time in a bakery and in London’s Science Museum. Finally, he became a Civil Servant and it was during this part of his working life that he was subjected to a prolonged campaign of overt victimisation by a Racist (White Supremacist) who prevented him from obtaining promotion. This resulted in my father suffering a period of depression which was deepened by the death of his elder sister in Pakistan who had been a strong maternal figure in whom he had confided and from whom he had always sought advice.

Towards the end of his life, particularly during the last few years, the memory of these traumatic episodes increasingly plagued my father and contributed to a decline in his mental and physical health. (In addition to suffering from depression, he had a number of physical ailments including prostrate cancer and was later diagnosed as suffering from Paget’s disease.) Even my mother, who cared for him unstintingly throughout their married lives, was unable to get him to talk about his unresolved issues. It is my belief that his eventual refusal to talk, even to close members of his family, was a consequence of his inability to obtain answers to the same question that he wanted to ask each of those who he felt had wronged him: “Why did you do this to me?”

Yet there were many brighter aspects to his very full life.

Foremost of these were the fact that my father was a deeply religious man. In addition to being a haafidh, he had performed the Hajj (i.e. pilgrimage to Makkah) and was regular in his prayer (salaat). On another important note, he was an avid reader and had a small ‘library’ of books at his home covering a range of subjects, principal of which were Islam, the history of the Arabs and the natural world. (My father also enjoyed watching natural history programmes on television.) One of the most memorable events in my life, which I think occurred when I was about 14 years old, was when my father brought home a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and proceeded to inform me that he had briefly met the late Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz when the latter had visited London in the 1960s. This event triggered my desire to find out more about the NOI (Nation of Islam) and the “Black Muslims”, reinforced by our family viewing of the television adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots some years earlier.

In addition to being a very fit person who exercised regularly, went for daily walks and ate a healthy diet, my father also had quite an infectious personality. Despite his many trials and tribulations, he had a good sense of humour and was somewhat of an extrovert. (He was also one of the most smartly dressed people I have ever known, a trait that I have not inherited.) He was very sociable and both my parents always made people welcome at their house, including my and my sister’s friends.

Although there was almost 40 years age difference between us, and many differences in taste and cultural outlook, as I grew in years and learning, I like to think that we became closer, at least insofar as we had more things in common, things that we both regarded as of decisive importance, viz. God/Allah, Al-Islam and The Qur’an. In addition, our political views began to converge, my father becoming increasingly critical about the Pakistan movement following our discussions and more radically ‘Islamist’ in orientation: I recall how much he enjoyed reading Sayyid Qutb’sMilestones which I had recommended to him (he purchased a number of copies of this book to give to people) and also World Arrogance by Ahmed Zidan. He also abandoned his former ‘rosy-tinted’ view of his adopted country, England, seeing it for what it is – a Racist (White Supremacist) land whose successive governments were/are committed to “Empire” / “Pax Britannica”, viz. maintaining, expanding and refining the subjugation of all non-white people, especially those in the so-called “Middle East” through its establishment and continued support of the Zionist [=WS/R] “settler state” of Israel.

Death

As my father’s only male offspring, I was given – rather, honoured with – the responsibility for arranging the funeral and afforded the opportunity to perform all the Islamic funeral rites, which commenced with preparing my father’s body for burial. This involved washing his body (ghusl) in accordance with prescribed rites (manaasik) and then perfuming it before placing it in a shroud (kafan). After this, female members of the family including my mother, sister, wife and daughters and family friends were invited to pay their last respects. I then led the congregation in the ‘noon’ prayer (i.e.salaat-ul-dhuhr) before carrying out the funeral prayer (salaat-ul-janaazah). Male members of the congregation were then invited to pay their last respects to my father before his body was taken to the grave site (qabr) in a coffin carried by myself and other males. I was permitted to enter the grave and lay my father to rest with his body facing towards Makkah. A number of wooden boards were then placed inside the grave at an angle so that the earth / clay piled on top of it did not disturb his body. Those at the burial site, all of whom were male, were then invited to cast three pieces of earth / clay into the grave – symbolising life, death and resurrection – before the grave-diggers piled up the remaining earth / clay into a mound. I then made a short supplication (du’a) to God/Allah, seeking His forgiveness for my father’s faults and mistakes in life and petitioning that he be granted a place in The Garden (Al-Jannat), and similarly for other recently deceased. I also invited the congregation to reflect on my father’s love for and commitment to God/Allah, The Qur’an and The Deen of Al-Islam. After this, I received condolences from the male members of the congregation before they disbursed and I brought the female members of the congregation to the grave in order that they might make supplication for the ‘self’ (nafs) of my late father.

All gratitude (shukr) and praise (hamd) are due to God/Allah who made it possible for me to remain in a state of serenity throughout the entire proceedings which took place in a dignified and peaceful manner.

Conclusion

I have too much to thank my father for: giving me life by the permission (idhn) of God/Allah, nurturing me, supporting my primary, secondary and tertiary education, instilling in me the love of knowledge, God/Allah, Al-Islam and the Arabic language. I only hope that, by the Grace of God/Allah, I can build on the solid foundations he provided me with and try to contribute something of constructive value in this, the “nearer world” (ad-dunya).

I shall miss his company, our conversations, his smile and laughter.

May Allah (swt) forgive him his mistakes and grant him a place in The Garden (Al-Jannat). Ameen.

In closing, there are no better words than those given in The Qur’an [=Final Proclamation of God/Allah to Humanity]:

(2:156) “Truly! To God/Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return”

Peace