On Divine Ordinances through Literature
“Tool’s music,” said a friend as we readied ourselves to chow down on our burgers, “Taught me so much about God.” I love being part of such conversations. But at the same time, I was wary.
Such statements don’t scandalize me, but I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that art is the means to a transcendence, to knowing and being in awe of that which is incomprehensibly divine. I associate such ideas with hippies engaging in the idea of free love, or creative types duping themselves into thinking they have something over the rest of the world.
But a gem of the truth shone through to me one day; a truth that stunned me because it made me think of something I usually rarely ever give thought to.
I was reading Annabel, a story about a hermaphrodite who is growing up in a remote part of Labrador in the Canadian north. At one point in the story, the child’s mother is wistfully missing St. John’s, a much larger city compared to Croydon Harbour the small town she married and settled down in. She especially misses the fact that she could lose herself and escape from her thoughts in the cinema in St. John’s, whereas there are no such distractions in Croydon Harbour. This place was founded in order to be cut off from the rest of the world. Its residents–especially the indigenous inhabitants around the area–were too absorbed in nature to need such frivolities:
. . . if you were one of the Innu or Inuit . . . you had no need of cinema. Cinema was one of the white man’s illusions to compensate for his blindness. A white man, for instance, had no idea of the life within stones. Imagine that.
I love my films and music and shows and think such mediums are eye-opening in ways that day-to-day experiences cannot always be. But because of this passage, I for the first time saw a deeply compelling case for disavowing such forms of entertainment.
What if music, films, and TV shows really are illusions for the blind ones, the ones who commit kufr not in its misconstrued, hackneyed, and demonized sense, but in terms of concealing the reality of our world and the universe?
When there is mention in the passage above of the life within stones, I was reminded of something a shaykh told me once: that all matter is continuously in praise of Allah. And I wonder if it’s possible for us, those who literally and figuratively live in places with millions of distractions, to be in tune with nature in such a manner so that we are doing dhikr with it.
We are told that there is life within stones and that nature is worshipping God. But if we could be aware of the life within stones, within trees, within the earth, we wouldn’t need to be told so.