Muslims Speak Series: “Is Quarantining Islamic Pessimism Do-able?”

Goatmilk introduces diverse voices and opinions from the global Muslim communities to discuss pertinent social, religious, political and cultural issues.

The opinionated “Goatmilk Comments” fixture, TA, contributes a new piece.

Is Quarantining Islamic Pessimism do-able?


Khalil Gibran once said that the optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.

As we pry into the new year, many of us are apt to miss  even the thorns.  Obsessed with clearing our name from the media’s blandishments,  determined to reconcile with our community every difference that makes us who we are, Muslim-Americans continue to display a deep sense of pessimism and negativity.

What then is the solution? Islamic positivity.  I don’t mean that we should all run down Market Street and chant the Muslim brotherhood’s  oft repeated Islam huwa al hal  mantra.  Nor do I hold Qutbesque views that Islam is a panacea to all of our communities problems. Make no mistakes, times are rough for the American Muslim community. One need only browse the internet  of flip through the paper to find a slew of articles addressing everything Muslim.  Whether its Muslim men’s  anachronistic virginity fetishes or how to profile a terror suspect, Islam remains in the thick of it.

What’s worse is our propensity to counter negativity with negativity.  How many of us have strolled through New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and observed the sizeable Hasidic  Jewish population  awaiting an outgoing flight to Tel Aviv?  Afterwards, how many Muslim Americans introspectively  thought to themselves, why us?   Why are one billion Muslims incapable of  convincing such a small population of the gross human rights that continue to transpire in Palestine? Why are they going to our land?

The sad thing is that same despondent Muslim who disembarked from Kennedy’s terminal 4, missed ten times as many Muslim’s lingering at the very same terminal.  Instead of focusing on the magnificent diversity of our religion and saying alhumdilah for all of the places where Islam flourishes, she symptomatically zooms in on Islam’s perceived failure, using the Israeli passengers as a conduit for her negativity.  Like so many of us, her Muslim negativity sensor shielded her from observing the young Pakistani Muslim in line for the Karachi flight,  or thousands of other Muslim passengers coming to and from come every single corner of the globe.  I do not mean to wash over the Israeli-Palestinian issue or to suggest that seeing the Tel Aviv sign at the departure board should not invoke empathy among other feelings.  What  I do mean to suggest is that our community is progressively blocking out all things positive in favor of a Un-Islamic form of pessimism.

We have a lot to worry about.  But these worries need to be placed on the back-burner for now.  The perpetual worrying and complaining that takes place in our community  has become toxic and undoubtedly does not stem from the positive foundations that underpin our religion.

In the past few days we have heard fellow believers whine about what they perceive to be stupid fatwa’s, their communities disdain for dark colored skin, and  sexual apprehensions galore. Not one time on this blog has a single individual wrote about the fountain of positivity that springs forth from our religion.  Is it un-intellectual to stop attacking and to start praising? Why are we so good at determining the price but so damn bad at discerning the value?

No matter how hard times get, Islam insists upon us a form of positivity.  In the  Qur’an God tests us through hardships  in order to punish us for our own misdoings (42:30), to shield us from greater misery (18:74, 18:79), to sift out the evil within us (3:179),  and  to give us the opportunity to earn reward by showing patience (3:142, 76:12). Thus, Islam dictates that seemingly negative afflictions ultimately have positive ends.

Hardship should not be met with insidious feelings of negativity and insistent complaining.  Instead  we must remain positive and do what Muslims have been doing for centuries.  When confronted with a waive of bad news, serve your fellow human beings by doing a good deed, recite Surah Ad Duha– as this surah came after a great length of time whereby the earlier Muslim population panicked because they feared that the revelation would not be completed.  Fight your negative inclinations by remembering one of God’s beautiful names.  Affirm as the prophet did that God suffices for us and he is the best of guardians. Finally, turn to God in all situations.

If the aforementioned advice appears overly simplistic and reductive, you are right. Islam is in many ways simple.  Even the most sophisticated among us should not shy away from turning to the One and remaining positive in the face of adversity. There must be a binary process in our community that is fueled by activism and intellectualism coupled with religious practice— Read the Quran and Hadith, praise and fear God, and remain positive.

Voltaire’s Candide was too optimistic and trustworthy. Blinded from the truth, he believed “Its all for the best.”  Marten, Candide’s opposite, was an extreme pessimist.  He refused to believe that good can be the future outcome.   Our community must follow neither Marten nor Candide. Rather, we must take heed to Voltaire’s advice of cultivating our own garden.  A positive realistic optimism is what we need.

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