The Balance Beam: The Identity Crisis, an essay by Dr. Omar

zaidpub (old blog)
zaidpub (old blog)
by Omar Zaid, M.D. March, 2009

Communication is essential for every aspect of life, and communion refers to an especial intimacy that is vital for social cohesion and unity.  Secret Societies guard this bond with vile oaths, religious groups attempt its expression through ritual, and spouses experience its manifestation in undefiled marriage.  The latter is an analogy for man’s ‘Communion’ with God, and is referred to in scripture by the verb ‘to know’.  For example, ‘And Adam knew his wife’ or the warning ascribed to Jesus: “… depart from me, I never knew you.”  This knowing of the ‘other’ is an integral component of a successful social milieu and ideally denotes unadulterated knowledge of truth.  It is also implied by the dictum: ‘Know thyself’.[1]

  • “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan, the proper study of mankind is man.” – Alexander Pope
  • “The folly of that impossible precept, ‘Know thyself’; till it be translated into this partially possible one, ‘Know what thou canst work at’.”  – Thomas Carlyle

This maxim is crucial to communion and community and implies that one must know far more than the discipline Mr. Carlyle suggests we must ‘work at’.
The knowledge of one’s self is challenged daily by the confraternities we develop in society, which all begin with the family where ‘relationship’ is defined by the words: father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife and relatives, and later expands to neighbors, friends, colleagues, mentors etc..  The first questions that frequently greet us deal with identity in terms of who we are and what our relationship is to a specific people, place and time, after which follow more crucial identitarian lines of query: “What do you do? Why are you here?” ― meaning: “What good are you to me and my people?”  — meaning: “Are you friend or enemy, useful or useless?” ― meaning: “What good are you to me?” or “Can I truly benefit from relationship with you?”  These challenges are all implied by the polite English greeting: “How do you do?”  The implication of course is, “How do I do what?”
This rather blunt certainty means―except for children, the insane, the metaphysically asleep or gad-about misanthropes―that we need to know who, what, where and why we are anywhere in the earth if we are to have a purposeful and fulfilling go at life. The inference, if you permit me to forego an extensive dissertation, is that in order to know the ‘other’ person we must first come to know ourselves.
In Luke 15:11-32 of the New Testament, Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son who, “when he found himself” — some translations say “when he came to his senses” ― he then returned to the relationships into which he was born.  The message I’m focusing on is the self-awareness that brought this careless sod to recognize the importance of maintaining good relations with the right sort of people, which implies that ‘the wrong sort of people’ also await relationship.
Everybody has good and bad relationships so what’s the significance of the difference?  The answer lay in the several queries implied by the interminably unanswered British greeting, “How do you do?”  And this brings us to the fundamental sociological principle defined by Ibn Khaldun as the basic impetus for civilization: which is the enhancement of mutual benefits by virtue of associations that make life on earth easier and more gratifying because, on his own recognizance, no man can go it alone.  Therefore, in order for profitable associations to prosper, identity is necessary which further implies specific roles and responsibilities incumbent on each individual in the association, which implies work that requires skill, and all of these require knowledge, the most significant of which is ‘self-knowledge’.
Simply stated, if you don’t know yourself you cannot responsibly manage your association with ‘others’, which then qualifies you as an incompetent applicant for the position.  In other words, you lack the management skills that would preserve and prosper benefit for other members in the group.   Hence, you’re of little significance in their chain of relations and pool of priorities.  You qualify as much as a vagrant would for the position of brain surgeon and we should then define the difference between these individuals?
Most everyone will defer to the needs of a child until the child comes to majority, whereupon requirements are established for the maintenance and advancement of the child’s position with respect to relationships.  Therefore, knowing yourself involves knowing what’s required to keep both your life and that of your ‘relations’ profitable and in good order.  Otherwise, the alternative is to fall into badly ordered associations which in the end are of no benefit, as happened to the prodigal son, who, when he entered the adult world, failed to acknowledge who he was and what his responsibilities were towards his family and community.  Therefore, we might say that gaining knowledge of one’s self is a primal career for which we receive life-long remuneration, for good or for bad.  This also holds true in global arenas.
What therefore qualifies people(s) as ‘bad’ is that ‘bad people’ really don’t care to be of benefit to others.  These are either hegemonic tyrants or hapless sycophants of which both lots are self-centred criminal psycho-sociopaths with traits characterized by greed, lust and gluttony etc., while others appear to fit in fine and are generally tolerated till they fail or fall ill and no longer comply with their responsibilities towards others; which certainly describes authors of the present global financial crises.  Indeed, the West has been prodigal with world resources and substantially careless with foreign relations; ‘careless’ of course meaning ‘selfish’.  In the traditional Islamic scheme of hierarchical human development leading to civilized status, such societies are hardly more evolved than animals and Al’Quar’n actually defers in favour of the latter.
Indeed, Native Americans traditionally refer to human beings as ‘my relatives’, but there were tribes who considered Caucasians and their religion as immature and not fully qualified as ‘human’.  The phrase ‘all my relatives’ is part of their ritual approach to communications with each other and God, Whom they called the ‘Great Spirit’.  As we know, prescient Occidental prodigals of the 16th through 20th Centuries murdered these ‘savages’ by the millions and this penchant towards genocide continues with respect to ‘other’ nations of different color, creeds and cultures.  But as the epistemology of concepts central to civilized social intercourse and establishment of unity all have to do with the preservation and advancement of knowledge towards wisdom, intimacy, confidentiality, communication, egalitarian trust and so forth, and as this ‘knowing’ begins with the self, I have a rather disturbing question to ask:
How do failed Nations of the Occident claim bona fide wisdom enough to unify the world under an obviously anti-social auspice for everyone’s benefit?  What is the basis for their claim to authenticity as Lords of a New World Order other than a continuance of the terrorizing big-bellied-bully wastrels they’ve proven to be?  Just when will the West come to its senses?
Authentic Communion

  • Knowing others is intelligence; Knowing yourself is true wisdom.  Mastering others is strength; Mastering yourself is true power.  – Lao Tse
  • However, if your intentions were to establish (strengthen first in yourself and then in the rest) the Path to God brought by Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), attaining moral uplift and civilization, and eliminating evil from yourself then: “Fatuba Laka Thumma Tuba Laka. For you is the happiness and blessings and again for you is the happiness and blessings.”

Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali[2]

Ritual is not communion with God.  It’s actually little more than a coin placed in the slot of a metaphysical telephone that might allow us to place a call to heaven.  It is protocol and discipline performed for community and selves but surely not for God; Who may require it for that reason but it’s certain He has no need of our mumbles, jumbles and circumspect ablutions.  To the contrary, it is we who need to talk to and then listen for His response.  Placing the call is easy for most, and so is voicing questions, entreaties and requests.  But ‘listening for an answer’ requires farsighted patience, discipline and knowledge, and these require guidance and experience; and these require us―with few exceptions―to remain at each stage of our social development and relational positions until answers arrive.
Divine answers are not as readily available as sound waves vibrating from phones or sweetened lauds following a lover’s embrace: this is why ‘prayer and patience’ are married in ‘Al’Qur’an’; for without a period of patient ‘waiting on the Lord’ as the Christians say, we generally return to world affairs and miss the Divine response.  For this reason the Prophet said ‘the ‘remembrance of God is far better than solat’ or ritual prayer.
In remembering God, we practice ongoing communion or mindfulness of our status as a helpless pile of decomposable refuse.  And some, like me, ‘talk’ to Him as if He were sitting on their shoulder.  Indeed, Al’Qur’an says He’s ‘closer than our jugular vein’.   I accept this as reality and care not to know the means.   At times I go about in continual conversation with Him, and often, I’m lost in pre-occupied expectation awaiting angelically inspired answers — much to the exasperation of my wives.  This is one of my individual approaches to an active remembrance of God as a natural expression of faith.  Without this intimate communion with God, I’ve little of value to share with anyone.
How then does God answer?  Divine response is what makes life exciting and stimulating for reality initiates.  It’s like a good mystery-drama only better because you are, in fact, the star of your own life.  God’s replies are at times immediate, but most often are delayed.  They come in a myriad of forms, at the strangest of times, and very often are surprises or answers to forgotten prayers and may even oppose what one expects and desires; they may be of a nature not readily comprehended, or far greater than what was asked for.  Dreams and visions are surely encountered but more likely one meets the divine response in relationships with other decomposable creatures.  These may include personal challenges; unexpected circumstances; disappointments; a good book; the wise counsel of an elder or spouse; the innocent response of a child; an observation of nature; the remarks or deeds of an enemy; or perhaps a calamity or even the ominous behavior of a pet!  All of these require patience and conscious observation to discern God’s rejoinder.  Otherwise, one is tossed to and fro on the high seas of life without a pilot’s license, or reduced to reading omens like good animists; which brings us to the Islamic concept of Piety, without which we cannot perceive the divine response and thereby cannot mindfully follow Divine Guidance.
To comprehend this metaphysical reality, imagine walking a tightrope suspended over hell. The only aid you have is the rope, your strength, and the balance beam in your hand.  In order to complete the walk one must be constantly on guard to keep balance with each step.  Now the expanse represents our earthly life; the rope represents Scripture and the examples of God’s messengers; your strength represents personal discipline and faith according to what is written; and the balance beam represents God’s help in response to prayer.  In order to utilize the balance beam, one must be sensitive to any loss of balance in order to maintain the equilibrium that stabilizes each step.  This requires consciousness and conscience, our two guardians against the perils of evil.  What man or nation can discharge such a feat without God’s help?
Since our individual and collective powers of discernment constantly fall short, it’s no wonder so many have pitched themselves to flammable infamy rather than call upon God in the manner of His Prophets.  Without piety it is impossible to hear God, let alone obey Him well enough to fulfill a destiny of service to Him, which is to our benefit and certainly not His! Without piety we are doomed.  Many fall and don’t know it till the flames engulf them!  That is why service to a Rightly Guided Imam is essential, because most of us have no inclination to develop piety.  Those who do, however, have discovered a secret that many a mystic has perverted: the discipline of quiet meditation or contemplation in remembrance of Allah.
The modern world corrupts and exploits the purpose of this time by calling it holiday instead of Holy Day.  It is meant to be a divinely commanded period of withdrawal from the world and not a plunge into delusions of pleasure.  It’s an interval reserved for communion with God in order to discern His Will through the many signs He gives both collectively and individually; a time set aside to listen to the ‘wee small voice’ within each of us, closer than our jugular and more potent than any pineal ‘third eye’ of New Age shamanology, or the impenetrable gray matter of humanists.
When common men sleep, People of God awaken to seek His counsel; patiently searching for the wisdom inferred by the term homo-sapiens in order to develop the blessed skills required to adjust the balance beam.  They do so; fully expecting an answer having no doubt it will come.  Therefore, do not be swayed into thinking ritual, good deeds or charity are sufficient for the communion of divine guidance.  If you lack the will or desire to communicate with God, as did the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, then submit your service to an Imam who is disciplined in piety, but be careful not to worship him.  Leave him in peace but follow his example to the best of your ability, and obey his counsel with the assurance of God’s Blessing, as did the men of Ibrahim and the Companions of Mohammad.
Without intimate communion with God, men cannot be validated and they easily adopt false doctrines from sectarian Kaunas whom Satan transforms to a light that eclipses truth.  One can always discern these hypocrites by the extreme emphasis placed on ritual rather than substance. The caveat here is: the greater the pageantry or ritual, the lesser the divine communion.
Communion with God, as with your spouse, is a private matter not to be subjected to the immodest exhibitionism men so readily applaud in this immoral age.  Therefore, take up the balance beam of piety and wait for the Divine answer, that you may know yourself and your companion creatures in order to build a community of ‘good’ people and collectively avoid the pitfall.

[1] Inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Plato and Protagoras ascribe the saying to the ‘Seven Wise Men’
[2] My Dear Beloved Son or Daughter, From Imam Ghazali’s Arabic Book “Ayyuhal Walad” from His Three-Volumes Collection of Short Books “Majmu’a Rasail Imam Ghazali” Translated into English By Irfan Hasan, From the Urdu Translation of the Book