A recent article in the Detroit News contrasted the lives of two ordinary persons from Palestinian refuge camps in Jordan. Two persons joined by faith and circumstances, yet separated by choices of their lifestyles. One awakens at 4 a.m. every day and walks a mile to the mosque for the Fajr prayers. At that time, the other is often just getting to sleep, capping off another night of drinking and socializing at a bar that caters to tourists and wealthy Palestinians. One keeps abreast of the latest political developments in the Middle East to "ensure our future liberation from Israel." The other, "like many in his Heineken-drinking clique, is oblivious to the latest showdown between the United States and Iraq and the subsequent peace brokered by the United Nations. But … knows all the words to the latest music videos." One wears a beard. The other religiously shaves it before happy hour, "because the real hot girls like soft skin." One is concerned about moral decadence and the mortal danger it presents to "their country and their afterlife." The other asks, "Why shouldn't we enjoy ourselves? Come on, you only live once, right?"
The article titled "Partying versus Praying", is pleasantly free of the propaganda overtones characteristic of the mainstream media reports about the Muslim world. In a typical piece, the first person would have been depicted as a "fundamentalist", a fanatic, a "bad guy" who is danger to himself and to the world. The second person, would, of course, be the "good guy"--- the friendly, "civilized" person who needs encouragement and support. In contrast, here is an objective observation about the clash of two currents. Its objectivity compels those it reports about, to reflect on their situation.
In a way, the story captures the current state of the entire Ummah. For today, the Ummah is a big refuge camp: Robbed, wounded, tortured, expelled, dispossessed, and disenfranchised. And just like the refuge camp it has two powerful but exactly opposite currents: One represents awakening, turning to Allah, overcoming the base desires, and preparing for liberation from slavery, both physical and intellectual. The other represents falling asleep, turning away from Allah, and "enjoying" the slavery. This is a clash between piety and profanity, between light and darkness, between the path to Paradise and the way to Hell.
It is born of the freedom of choice that has been given to every human being. Allah has created two possible destinations for all human beings, and there are two opposite paths leading to them. "We have shown him the two paths." [Al-Balad 90:10] "We showed him the Way: Whether he be grateful or ungrateful." [Al-Insan 76:3] The first path leads to success, the other to failure. "By the Soul and the proportion and order given to it, and its inspiration as to its wrong and its right. Truly he succeeds that purifies it and he fails that corrupts it." [Ash-Shams 91:7-10]
Qur'an is very emphatic that those who choose the disparate paths cannot be alike, either here or in the hereafter: "Shall We treat those who believe and do good works as those who spread corruption in the earth; shall We treat the pious as the wicked?" [Sad 38:28]
"Is he who is a believer like unto him who is an evil-liver? They are not alike." [As-Sajda 32:18] "Is then one who does know that that which has been revealed unto you (O Muhammad), from your Lord is the Truth, like one who is blind?" [Ar-Rad 13:19] "The Day when Man shall remember all that he strove for, and Hell-Fire shall be placed in full view for him who sees. Then, for such as had transgressed all bounds, and had preferred the life of this world, the abode will be Hell-Fire; and for such as had entertained the fear of standing before their Lord and had restrained their soul from lower desires, their abode will be the Garden." [An-Naziat 79:35-41]
It is, then, for each one of us to make up our mind regarding our destination and to check whether we are moving in its direction. Of course, the choice would not be difficult if we were only looking at the destination. No one in his right mind would choose Hell over Heaven or eternal failure over success. But the eternal success requires us to go uphill. It takes effort and patience.
The journey to hell, on the other hand, is downhill. One can just slide to it. And so, weak and prone to temptations that we are, we slip. That slip alone would not be that much of a problem, because one can also recover from it through repentance. The real problem occurs when we lose all sense of direction and purpose and start thinking that our fall is our rise.
To complicate matters further, today big outside forces are also busy at work to smooth our slide and cheer us at our fall. It is a juggernaut of unbelievable proportions and unprecedented wickedness. The television and music videos, present everywhere and all the time, are part of it. The UN Social Action Program and its plans for "development" and "empowerment" are part of it. The various NGOs working for "Human rights", "Women's rights", or whatever rights, are part of it. All those propaganda pieces that praise "moderates" and demonize "fundamentalists" are part of it.
Of course none of that can do any harm to us if we are willing to cut through the haze and see things for what they are. It is Allah's promise that both paths will remain open to us. It is our choice. The young Palestinian man who walks a mile to the mosque three to five times a day has made his choice. So have thousands upon thousands of others like him in the Ummah who have decided to shun evil and follow the path of piety and righteousness. So can the millions of others who are just wandering around.
Let us remember: we cannot get to the high ground by taking the low road. We cannot win our Creator's pleasure by disobeying Him. We cannot enter Paradise by being ambivalent about it. The clash between the two lifestyles here is actually the clash between two afterlives. And the choice is ours.