Is sin a modern plague? Not really. Many philosophers have observed that the quantum of sin and evil is more or less constant throughout history. Even some verses of Al Qur’an hint that a “demand” for the Day of Judgment would find ALL human souls in a state of unspeakable REMORSE for our sins.
So in what sense can we link sin with elements of modern life? There are many similarities between the “jahiliyyah” society of pre-Islamic Arabia and the modern world. It is as if history is repeating itself, such that we all long for deliverance, even if it takes the form of the “End Times”, as described by the many Ahadith on this topic (see for example “Jerusalem in the Qur’an”, available online).
The women of pre-Islamic Arabia used to plant a green flag in front of their houses if they were lonely and wished to entertain men visitors for the purpose of sex. When a woman had a child, a committee of elders met to decide which of her previous sexual partners the child most resembled, and that man was appointed the father. These and other practices can be gleaned from the many scholarly studies on that era of history in the Arabian Peninsula.
Or one can do field research in modern America. For example, in the early 1960’s, the story of the well-known “Sexual Freedom League” parties being held near one of the big university campuses. Single men were not admitted, so one had to enlist the company female students to get in, with the promise that participation in the “party games” would not be required.
The first such “game” consisted of the host pairing off the men and women whose names appeared on the registration list (compiled upon arrival), in a completely random fashion. Those who arrived together were not allowed to stay together. One among various “theme-decorated” rooms were chosen by these random couples, such as the “Wild West” room, the “Outer Space” room, the “Roman Orgy” room, and so on. Any number of couples could occupy any of these rooms, to commence “getting to know you”.
Participants in these weekly events, interviewed later, expressed a sort of common “ideology” about them. The first principle was ending the taboo against others viewing your sexual behavior. Another was ending the taboo against “same-gender sex”, in other words, an end to “homophobia”. A third was encouragement in promoting these parties to the general public. And so on. The term “guilt management” was invented to describe such rationalizations.
According to Sigmund Freud, who invented the term, “rationalizations” are self-delusions invented by the clever intellect to cover up the stressful guilt or other feelings accompanying the breakdown of well-known moral standards. As we can see, without any limits to human behavior from the realm of Revealed Knowledge, the human mind can “rationalize” almost any form of moral breakdown.
The neo-conservative Evangelical Christian vice-president of the USA recently admired his lesbian daughter in public, for her enlisting male stud service to impregnate her so that she and her female lover could raise a child together. His rationalization? “Doesn’t everyone deserve to have a family?”
In Malaysia, drugs have also been added to the general phobic attitude toward “Sin”. (Arabic provides the term “Taqwa” to express a healthy “takut dosa”, or fear of sin and its consequences, rather than the modern tendency to fear the TERM or MEANING of the term “sin”, which builds up as the quantum of remorse itself becomes overwhelming and then repressed into the subconscious, becoming a sort of “remorsophobia”.)
The history of the drug “Ecstasy” is instructive (bookstores offer a number of works dealing with this history). Classified originally as an “empathetic” drug, family therapists were in the process of developing a five-hour, one-shot family therapy format whose primary strategy (or therapeutic intervention) was to re-establish deep empathy among family members, such that (among other results) the young people would not be attracted to the “rave” rituals of modern “clubbing” to re-gain a longed-for empathy with other human beings, that they no longer found in their families.
Meanwhile, although the family home has remained more or less sacrosanct in the West, there had already sprung up in the USA in the 1970’s many communal “bath houses” (meaning coed hot tubs) in the larger cities, especially those tolerating a high level of homosexuality.
In one of these establishments in San Francisco and the same mutual support of sinful behavior that we see now in Malaysia can be found. Furthermore, nudity was required, and gender-balance was maintained through admitting only couples to the premises, after which “anything goes”. It has since been discovered that the homosexual community was the main instigator of these bath houses, which later became major incubation sites for the HIV virus. Their maintenance of gender-balance was merely a sop to the general public to gain their entrance and participation. The police evidently had nothing to say about these businesses.
One might asks, what use is religion, modern or otherwise, if problems of family-based empathy are not adequately addressed and solved? The failed search for “belonging” is even the basis of major schools of psychotherapy, originated by Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, and other students of Sigmund Freud. Carl Jung addressed religious concerns in positing the need for empathy with one’s own “higher self”, its identification through various symbol systems, and its integration into an effective “individuation” process.
Such responses to the problems of the “plague of sin” are inadequate, however. Only religion can deal with this issue, as activities promoting “group empathy”, or even proper medical attention, can only ever be available to a tiny proportion of the “general public”. In fact, the desperation caused by the “empathy deprivation” now appearing in modern lifestyles is what high-jacked any actual usefulness of the empathetic drugs by driving them into the hands of the criminal element, and thence into the hands of our youth walking the streets.
This “general public”, in other words, the Muslim Ummah, will be increasingly disturbed and rendered “schizoid” by the spread of sins, which in turn will attack more and more so-called religious people as they continue to lose their “adab”. “Schizoid” means they will profess Islam, while behaving quite otherwise.
In Islam and in Asian cultures in general, we have a defense against a life of sin that is much simpler than drug-therapy or social innovations such as bath houses and “raves”. We call it “adab”, and yet neither leaders nor scholars are recognizing the overwhelming role of the decline of “adab” in subverting our young people in the very heart of their religion, in other words, in the almost hopeless contamination or corruption of their souls through disbelief in sin or the consequences of sin.
It starts, for many of us, in Kuala Lumpur’s transport system. For senior citizens in particular, because of old age, standing and being pushed here and there by the crowds of rush-hour commuters is not only very painful but can also be dangerous to their aging nerves and tendons. And this would be so to some extent for any senior citizen. And yet, those other commuters are usually much too tired (to put it politely) to offer a seat. And there begins our disenchantment with the parental guidance which these younger Malaysians neither have nor heed.
They are neither polite nor respectful to their elders. For example, we face the problem of garbage and litter that greets us in many places, in particular in mosque compound; we must pick up ourselves and carry to some far-away garbage bin. This cleanup tells me that young Muslims no longer care what impression they give of their parents. I ask them, “Why have your parents so completely failed to bring you up as good Muslims?” They have no reply. They may pick up the litter once or twice after that, but then it stops. I cannot even shame them into proper Islamic concern for the cleanliness of their environment.
The linkage I suggest, drawn from our own Islamic history and teachings, is that disregard for environmental cleanliness and public manners soon translates into disregard for cleanliness of soul, or “jiwa”. And so our Muslim youth literally throw away the most priceless heritage of guarding their own souls, or those of their own children, from dirt and filth.
The westerners have virtually NO CONCEPT of “jiwa bersih” or pure soul – al-nafs al-zakiyya– along with an almost universal disregard for the value of feminine virginity (or masculine, for that matter). Long ago, they lost contact with their deepest inner beings to the extent that they literally NO LONGER RECOGNIZE sin. When I challenged a retired lawyer friend over there to MARRY the woman with whom he was living, he replied that he could not find any sin anywhere in what he was doing. It seems that Malaysians are not far behind.
And may Allah swt quickly restore our capacity for genuine REMORSE, now, before we are totally overwhelmed by it on our Day of Judgment, as Al Qur’an warns us in no uncertain terms. AMIN.