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Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

islam from inside ☰

History and Perception

Illuminating the Present with the Light of the Past

Added December 23, 2004


When two mirrors are held facing each other a regression of reflections results. A corridor of mirrors dwindling away into minuscule images beyond the range of vision is created. But each time the reflections repeat themselves the quality of the reflection degrades ever so slightly. At first this change is hardly noticeable, but as we look deeper into the never-ending well of repeating images the degradation becomes obvious and long before the vanishing point it becomes a blurred, hazy, jumble of indistinct fuzziness. So it is when we look along the tunnel of time, past and future.

There the degradation exists in our minds, our consciousness. It is not the image which is lacking in clarity but the mirror of our perception...the clouded glass through which all our seeing is done - the past is what it was but the relics and stories of what remains of it in our time do not often allow us a clear perception. And our own immersion in our present affects our viewpoint so that we interpret from the standpoint of our era and all it's own myriad biases and foibles.

At its best, our era is not graced with serenity. These are event driven times, full of motion, movement, turmoil - an antithesis to contemplation and careful consideration. For us, for our time, the future rarely extends its horizon beyond the next month, or week, or day. And so we tend to hang on every oscillation in stock prices, anticipate the turn of fortune that the next market update may herald, and, in troubled times, diligently follow the ever-shifting state of the world. We watch incessantly, intently, so focused on each advancing tick of the event-clock that past and future are seemingly banished to the cloudy, unfocused edges of peripheral vision. The principle of cause and effect in human affairs recedes into irrelevancy, and like an amnesiac we dwell in a disconnected, decoupled, never-ending present. There is no degradation of image in our view of past events, since there is hardly any image existing to consider. If the past is referred to it is often a revisionist past or a fragment mentioned only to bolster the acceptance of some present day agenda or policy. In other words the past is of interest primarily inasmuch as it can be shown to mirror or support present day desires and objectives - it becomes little more than an extension of the collective modern ego.

And so we are in danger of being left with no point of reference with which to judge events and insufficient context with which to understand them. With vast amounts of knowledge at our fingertips, with technology that borders on magic at our daily command, with mountains of information at our disposal, we seem nevertheless destined to repeatedly encounter disaster and horror around the world and to meet it by dealing out the same. Over time, as the never-ending present we dwell in grows increasingly nightmarish, increasingly brutal, we will shake our heads in confusion and wonder how all this could come to be - and we will never truly know since we cut ourselves adrift from the sources which could help us to understand and seek solutions for our problems. Past and future - cause and effect - continuity and coherence.

Only the noise and clamour of the present remains - the cold horror of sudden death by terror, the hollow rhetoric and tiresome lies of leaders, the moment by moment media reports, the faulty and destructive strategies of war, the crushing blows of armies, the transformation of economics, trade, diplomacy, business, aid, information, and culture into strategic weapons. The energy of events overrides all historical perspectives except those that pertain to policy, tactics and propaganda, and a corporatized and generally cowardly media becomes an active component in this process. Our society's signal to noise ratio has become so feeble that little that is truly meaningful or coherent can be discerned. Reflection and thoughtfulness are drowned in a sea of “white noise”.

Yet between the din of conflict and the clatter of a media that vacillates between producing mind-numbing entertainment and engaging in vacuous and selective reporting of current events and crises, there are present among every religion, every culture, every language, those who struggle to raise their level of awareness and understanding and that of their society. They do not deal with weapons of terror or have the power of empire at their disposal - their efforts occur in the interspaces between events, often drowned out by the incessant shouting of the powerful and the connected. They do not cover over, conceal, or shrug off what has gone before, they are not swayed by the biases, fashions, trends and propaganda of their time. They seek to illuminate the present with the light of the past and with an understanding that cuts deeply through the vertical axis of this world and through this show the possibilities of hope for the future.[1] They do not cause suffering - they relieve it. They act as witnesses for their era and their societies (“We bring forth from every people a witness” (Qur'an. 4:41)). Their simple and quiet traces are of greater worth than the posturing and clamouring of this era's demagogues....[2]

“....what they used to forge shall depart from them....We will raise up in every people a witness over them from among themselves.... Surely Allah enjoins the doing of justice and the doing of good (to others)...and He admonishes you that you may be deeply mindful.” (Qur'an 16:87-90)



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  • 1 – Related Articles

    Power and Hegemony

    Hermeneutics of Takfir

    Seeking Patterns and Principles

    We have adorned for each society their acts

    The concept of time in the Quran

  • 2 – Future Past

    Look to the past to see the future reality. As economic difficulties arise, as resources are drained, as weariness of long sieges set in, as numerous groups move to make their power plays, the game which once seemed so enticing, so certain to bring victory - which gave a heady a sense of driving the future, of creating the future, will tire even the strong - perhaps make them wish to withdraw from this particular round of the game, or perhaps cause them to play and justify ever harsher hands to maintain dominance.

    Everything is always “under control”....until it spins out of control. A war on terror (euphemism for a war of strategic and military dominance) can be efficiently managed, or so the spin goes - just as the world thought they could maintain their bubble, just as the telecom industries forecast endless growth, just as Enron and others thought they could manage their crooked finances - until the sudden collapse - until the bubble bursts or deflates.

    The supposed war on terror (sidelined early on by Iraq) is not a simple company management situation - there are so many variables - so much volatility - so many possible outcomes, so many competing ambitions, so much ruthlessness, so many unsavory alliances, so many grudges, so many high-level crooks, so many lies, so many false justifications, so much ill-feeling, so much greed, so many special interests, so little human concern, so much injustice, so little truth - how impossible it is to control the outcome of such complex and distasteful dynamics or to know to what they will lead....

    “And you shall see every nation bent down, humbled; every nation shall be called to its book: you shall be recompensed for what you (as a society) did.” (Qur'an 45:28)

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