The following email was received a few weeks ago from Asif Iftikhar, member of Renaissance Editorial Board.
I became disillusioned in just one year. In one year of exposure to modern scholarship, I became disillusioned with what I had always held in the highest esteem: knowledge. How could something so hallowed in essence be so defiling for the soul at times? The realization that it could be was heart decimating. It was not an easy gulp to swallow. But the fact remains that knowledge without commitment to God is just another idol filled with intellectual filth. I have seen that without that commitment, even the scholars of the highest calibre can make the worst imaginable compromises just to buttress their image. But my disillusionment has little to do with the academic milieux of the lands beyond the 'Kuh Kaf'. It has to do with my own self – with my own failings as a Muslim. The only thing that I guess has happened here in the highly diverse and syncretic environment is a thorough expose of myself to me. And even underneath the atavist veneer that I have worn for years with much care, I have found my inner self pretty hollow. Don't let anyone ever fool you that iman is enhanced by knowledge. Knowledge does keep the accompanying emotions on the right track, and, therefore we are duty bound to do our best to seek it. But, at the end of the day, it is our sacrifices for our Lord that sustain, augment and fulfill our iman. It is that zest, that early euphoria, that joyous willingness to make sacrifices in His way that I find attenuated to a deplorable extent. Over here, I have seen the Devil himself reciting the scripture for his own creed. And aye, he's the scholar of scholars. An accomplished virtuoso. Maestro par excellence. He is the Dark Prince alright. The Masih Dajjal. Charming, glorious and downright charismatic: he stands tall, strong, invincible and at ease, like a Roman emperor, a hand on the hip and the other extended for all – the good, the bad, the evil, the pious – to kiss in coveted or uncoveted submission. Some are lured by greed or pride, some are goaded by fear. And some are made to genuflect in their weakness. The emperor rules supreme. And thus the 'system' works. Anyone who has different ideas is left out in the cold to freeze. The only recourse for such a dissident: Stop thinking. Get on with life. Grow and prosper. Get accepted. Get accepted at Harvard. Get accepted at Yale. Get accepted at Princeton. Get rejected from Jannah? Think about that later. Better still, do not think at all.
In the labyrinth of denials, subterfuges, and compromises, where do I stand? I have dared to ask myself this question. In our tradition, the thread that takes one out of the maze has often been granted in return for blood not tears. Will the little I have done be enough? Will my tears suffice? I sometimes think of MawlanaIslahi'swords: 'If we can't run in His way, we shall walk; if we can't walk, we shall crawl; if we can't crawl, we shall lie down in His way and keep looking towards Him'. Those words give me hope. But then, looking at the lives of the prophets of God and their companions, I see more reasons to fear than to hope. 'To love the Lord my God, with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul' – that already seems to be a shaken dream: undermined by growing addiction to routine, to the lure of comfortable or glorious existence, to the necessity of just 'being' But I am still looking towards Him. My hope is that He will give me the strength to get up and walk and then run in His way. And if my soul is taken back before then, I shall be accepted where it really matters. If, and quite possibly for now, not amongst the esteemed, then at least among those sinners and underachievers who will nevertheless be granted the forgiveness of God by His special grace. Better to be a sinner who doesn't insist on his sins knowingly than to be a scholar who ends up distorting God's directives with his scholarship. Better to sin than to lie glibly in religion.