A Return To Meaning

In this episode, Imam Marc speaks about how ritual and meaning are increasingly seen as things not only trivial or perhaps juvenile, but also something scornful, a reminder of a not-so-distant past many would like to pretend never existed, when life was not able to be safely and comfortably quantified.

The loss of meaning’s appreciation can also be linked to western educational institutions:

“Its emphasis on specialization meant that most professors considered the question of meaning beyond their purview … The question of how to live, after all, requires a discussion of abstract, personal, and moral values. It does not belong, these professors argued, in colleges and universities devoted to the accumulation of objective knowledge … An increasing consensus in the academy is that faculty members should not help students discern a meaningful philosophy of life or develop character, but should instead help them master the content and methodology of a given discipline and learn critical thinking.”1

This can be seen manifesting in the Muslim community in a number of ways, such as how Muslims (especially western Muslims) approach the month long ritual of fasting in the month of Ramadan. Social media will shortly be a flurry with posts recommending this or that suhur (or pre-dawn) smoothie which promises to reduce or even eliminate fatigue and hunger. How odd that the practitioners of a faith would want to minimize the experience of one of its most important rituals: but that is precisely what we see happening with Islam in the West. Increasingly we seem to be saying, “ritual and religious experience, particularly those that ask us to give up something or daresay, even experience something uncomfortable, we don’t want any part of it. Either it changes to accommodate our desires or it gets jettisoned!”.

For me, this is why I think so many are trying to find way to validate what would otherwise been seen – according to post-religious secular norms – as ridiculous, by legitimizing and substantiating fasting for one month as something healthy. According to this new logic, to the extent that Islamic rituals can be confirmed by empirical/scientific observations, they may be tolerated. But to the extent to which they can’t (wearing hijab or growing a beard, for example), then they condemned as backwards and even potentially subhuman (hijab again).
One of the fundamental on the long differences is the pursuit of emotions versus the crafting with meaning. is the pursuit of emotions versus the crafting of meaning. The pursuit of emotion attempts to extract, for example, happiness, either from objects or activities like superfoods or yoga, alcohol or sex. But those who seek to craft meaning transcend objects and experience and see meaning in them; they see God. This should not be mistaken as a form of shamanism, in the Muslim sense, for Muslims do not believe God is inside their superfood smoothie or tantric sex, but rather see any such objects or activities as the result of God. The former tends to be rooted in an idolatrous materialism which places conditional value on things (things here being objects, activities/experiences). To the extent that an object, activity, or experience makes that individual happy it is deemed to be good regardless of what Revelation may have to say about it. Whereas the latter sees beyond this triumvirate and knows the source from which, for example, blueberry smoothies and alcohol, come from, thus allowing them to apply wisdom.


1. Smith, Emily Esfahani. The Power of Meaning: Crafting A Life That Matters. Kindle ed., Crown, New York, 2017.

Skepticism: One of the Challenges Facing Muslims Today – A Khutbah by Imam Marc Manley

وَجَعَلنَا اللَّيلَ وَالنَّهارَ آيَتَينِ ۖ فَمَحَونا آيَةَ اللَّيلِ وَجَعَلنا آيَةَ النَّهارِ مُبصِرَةً لِتَبتَغوا فَضلًا مِن رَبِّكُم وَلِتَعلَموا عَدَدَ السِّنينَ وَالحِسابَ ۚ وَكُلَّ شَيءٍ فَصَّلناهُ تَفصيلًا

“We made the night and day two Signs. We blotted out the Sign of the night and made the Sign of the day a time for seeing so that you can seek favour from your Lord and will know the number of years and the reckoning of time. We have made all things very clear.” Qur’an 17: 12

Harvey Sarles, writing in his essay “An Epistolary Exchange” in Humanism Today about skepticism,

“The skepticism of the Enlightenment concerning facts of nature has entered our thinking, leading to skepticisms about the very possibility of knowledge, sliding to various cynicisms, and the meaning-destroying nihilisms of frantic modernists.”

That modern philosophers and naysayers deny your claim to The Law-Giver, all the while they are unable to even conceive of a framework in which to express themselves which doesn’t confirm the claim of a law-giver?

First off, these “laws” are not in fact laws but in reality, generalizations based off of human experience and observation. In the Muslim tradition we call these the Sunan of Allah. They are not laws that nature has dictated.

Natural laws: does not every law have a law-giver? An enforcer? Requires a decree?

This is the result of not understanding what cognitive framework you are living and thinking in.

Skepticism: There cannot be an infinite regression of finite attributes. If there were such a thing as infinite regression one would not be able to arrive at the present.

That which has the potential to change, or has changed, cannot be pre-eternal or pre-existent.

The intellect, to which the five senses and empiricism are beholden to, is superior. Nothing created is pre-eternal no matter how ancient it may be. And if a thing is not pre-eternal then it must point to that which has made it temporal.

Allah draws our attention constantly in the Qur’an by reminding us of the alternation of night and day, in other words, temporality:

خَلَقَ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضَ بِالحَقِّ ۖ يُكَوِّرُ اللَّيلَ عَلَى النَّهارِ وَيُكَوِّرُ النَّهارَ عَلَى اللَّيلِ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ الشَّمسَ وَالقَمَرَ ۖ كُلٌّ يَجري لِأَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى ۗ أَلا هُوَ العَزيزُ الغَفّارُ

“He created the heavens and the earth with truth. He wraps the night around the day and wraps the day around the night, and has made the sun and moon subservient, each one running for a specified term. Is He not indeed the Almighty, the Endlessly Forgiving?” Qur’an, 39: 5

Why is it Allah talks to us about night and day? So that we know what time it is? To spout poetry? Or so we can find temporality and meaning.

Cynicism is like recognizing the truth or seeing something meaningful but having neither the heart nor the intellect to capitalize on it.

لتتبعن سنن من كان قبلكم شبرًا بشبر، وذراعًا بذراع، حتى لو دخلوا جحر ضب تبعتموهم قلنا يا رسول الله: اليهود والنصارى؟ قال: فمن

Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with him, stated that the Prophet ﷺ said,

“You will certainly follow the ways of those who came before you, span for span, cubit by cubit, to the extent that if they entered a lizard’s hole you will enter it, too.” We said, “O’ Messenger of Allah, do you mean the Jews and the Christians?” He said, “Who else?” Sahih al-Bukhari, #7320