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Faisal Hanif Column

Posted on: 15 September 2014

Originally from Nelson, Faisal Hanif works as a freelance journalist. He recently graduated in the MA Newspaper Journalism programme at City University, London and has a Masters qualification in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies. Previously, he received a BA (hons) in History at the University of Leicester, and has worked as an associate researcher for Datamonitor in Manchester. We are delighted that Faisal will be writing a regular column exclusively for Inspiring Grace. The views expressed belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Inspiring Grace.

September 2014

Just over a month ago a Sky News reporter waded into the waters off the coast of Cornwall to report on the dramatic increase in the number of Moon Jellyfish that had been sighted in the past couple of years.

This was followed by the sighting of a Barell Jellyfish with two metre long tentacles in the Cornwall Estuary. The creature resembled a horror movie director’s fantasy and caused further consternation and wonderment amongst the locals and sea life observers.

The most visible malaise however came just a fortnight ago when billions of Blue Jellyfish were swept ashore of the West Coast of the US from North California to British Columbia. The scene across hundreds of miles of coastline was akin to an apocalyptic vision.

What was surprising is how such tumultuous events had very little tract on the wider news agenda: lost almost among the maelstrom of propaganda, political intrigue and celebrity mindlessness.

The consequences of over fishing and the brutalising of Mother Nature that has been a constant feature of human activity since Industrialisation is only now beginning to be realised in all its gory detail. The chickens are well and truly roosting and by all accounts are going to get very, very fat.

Hamza Yusuf a modern giant in scholastic and Sufi circles has spoken extensively on the issue of the degrading treatment of the environment in recent times.

His own observation of the rising Jellyfish numbers in our oceans is to equate it to what is taking place on land. Rats and cockroaches, he says, are amongst the only living creatures going against the grain of mass extinction and not dwindling in numbers like most species. The majestic is on its way out replaced by the lowest form of life.

The symbolism of such events is not lost on those who witness and watch for what the natural world is expressing. Expression comes in many forms, many of which are more subtle than when nature retches out the contents from the deepest depths of its bowels in a display of display of utter disgust; à la Jellyfish.

How do we recognise such signs or even begin to interpret and understand them in a better way?

Every creature alive has the power to observe something whether by sight, sound, smell, touch or through other means. But only the human is gifted with the power to rationalise and understand what is taking place and what ultimately lies beneath the surface.

Thinking therefore is the key requirement here. From an Islamic perspective we can refer to what is described in Qur’anic terminology as fikr (reasoning or contemplation). Fikr as a practice has sadly become dormant amongst the mass Muslim conscious. And yet it is amongst the most crucial aspect of our tradition and the Prophetic practice.

Think of that troubling time when a man gave himself up to loneliness to ponder his existence and all that around him and what existed beyond his immediate perceptions.

Words came and would continue to come over 23 years before being binded eternally. And yet before any of it came thought. To use Qur’anic terminology the fikr preceded the dhikr (exaltation).

The course of events at Hira have been a template for many a great mind to find the moment of inspiration that can change the course of a life or even history. The theologian Al-Ghazali traversed the same path to find his own enlightenment and salvation.

But fikr is not limited to the Islamic tradition. It is a universal concept that gives all human beings the potential for equal access to their creator and to discover the wonders of His universe.

In light of this, it is why those we look to as our exemplars and heroes should not be confined to people within the immediate tradition. Countless examples are present in recent history and one of them is encountered by us all during our most basic studies in physics.

Whilst drinking tea and in the midst of contemplation, a young man saw an apple fall from a tree. Popular culture dictates that the apple struck his head whilst he was sitting beneath the tree, almost certainly an embellishment. Nevertheless there was a tree and an apple and the question why? Why he thought did that apple come down? Why not rise up or go sideways?

The rest is history as they say, a history that is testament to the thought and endeavour of Isaac Newton.

It is safe to say that if most of us had been where Newton sat we would have taken the apple and eaten it with no care as to why or how it came down.

Of course Newton was gifted but there was so much more that allowed his genius to flourish.

Namely an environment of learning that liberates the intellect into scholarly enquiry beyond one’s most immediate needs.

This is not to say that we are all going to become Newton or Ghazali, very few have and their lives symbolise some of the highest echelons of human potential. But if our approach to how and what we see around us can be similar and we can at least replicate their method and, by extension the Prophetic method it would be a good start in understanding what is truly taking place around us.