Davi Barker, who writes at The Muslim Agorist and for other publications, recently returned from his Hajj pilgrimage. Altmuslim will be featuring a few of his reflections this week, as Barker settles back into his post-Hajj life.
I recently returned home from Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, and I’ve been thinking a lot about a Prophetic saying that is very common and well know among those pursuing social or political change. It is reported that Prophet Muhammad said,
“Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand by taking action; if he cannot, then with his tongue by speaking out; and if he cannot, then with his heart by hating it and knowing that it is wrong – and that is the weakest of faith. (Narrated by Muslim, 49)”
I’ll call these three doers of good, “activists” “advocates” and “quietists.”
The activist position is that change must occur immediately, as in a revolution. The advocates position is that change must be spoken about, written about, studied and taught. And presumably at such time as when a ground swell of activists is possible, change occurs. And the quietist position is simply that evil must be patiently endured until such time as change occurs by some outside agent.
I would argue that the majority of the population are quietists. But there is great tension in the quietist position because it necessarily means that the heart is in a state of hatred nearly all the time. When surrounded by unchangeable evil, all day everyday, hatred becomes a constant remembrance in the heart. Like a dull pain, it tells you that the heart is alive when it despairs at witnessing evil.
So I would posit that this narration also implies its own opposite. Its reversal. Its contrapositive, which is that when one’s heart grows weary of hatred, as it is want to do, it becomes a quietist for evil, which simply means it accepts evil as it is and no longer longs for change by some outside agent. The quietist for good will love to hear advocates for good. They keep their heart alive, just as witnessing the activist for good keeps the advocate’s heart alive. But the quietist for evil, who accepts evil, and does not desire change will grow to hate advocates and activists for good, because they expose what is corrupt in the quietist’s own heart, what they conceal from others, and seek to conceal from themselves, which is that they are hypocrites.
The great danger is that a quietist for good and a quietist for evil are outwardly identical. It is only an inward posture concerning what they love and what they hate. They may even be deceived themselves. But they do not reveal themselves until they speak. If the quietist for evil remains in this state, eventually their hatred for the activists and advocates for good will grow until they speak out against good in defense of evil, becoming and advocate for evil.
This will be subtle, and be coached in the language of the good. They will say that evil is necessary, or that it is for the “greater good,” and they will use this language to appose those who appose the evil they have grown to accept or even love. If they remain in this state, as an advocate for evil, eventually their hatred for the activists and advocates for good will grow until they take actions against them, or in support of the evil they appose, becoming an activist for evil.
For example, while entering the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah for Friday prayers I was confronted by a Saudi officer who wanted to search my bag. The police officer is an activist for evil. He is actively violating the privacy of Muslims, which the Prophet never did, as an agent of a Satanic regime. He undoubtedly tells himself that he is good, that his job is necessary, or for the greater good. But I believe in his heart of hearts the truth is written if only he’d look. Indeed, he would call it evil if I insisted on searching his bags under threat of expulsion from the Mosque.
So when I approached, I became a witness to evil, and had to decide if I would be an activist, an advocate, or a quietist. An activist would most likely be expelled, maybe even deported. To sacrifice ones entire pilgrimage to avoid a petty tyrant didn’t seem prudent to me, but I would love someone who did. The vast majority of people are quietists, but whether they are good or evil remains hidden. Being an advocate in this situation is delicate work, because I was being ordered to act and I responded by speaking instead of acting. The trick is remaining calm in the face of an authoritarian who invariably starts screaming when challenged to think. I protested, refused and began asking questions, but the officer didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Arabic.
Speaking against evil in a foreign tongue seems nearly futile, but I demanded a translator. So, the officer yelled into the crowd, and another pilgrim appeared who spoke both languages. This was not agent of the State. This was a civilian volunteer.
The translator is a quietist at first, as nearly all the crowd is. Quietists make the best subjects and slaves. And if he only translated he would have remained an undifferentiated quietist, but he chose to interject his own commentary he became an advocate. As I asked the officer questions the pilgrim didn’t translate, but answered for him, telling me that these searches were normal, and that the officer was just following orders.
By doing this he became in a very subtle way an advocate for evil. Not an impartial translator, but a partisan in the disagreement. He reinforced the resolve of the evil activist, and diminished the resolve of the good advocate. In other words, he hated to witness someone speaking out against evil he at least tacitly accepts.
A version of this article was originally published in The Examiner. Davi Barker writes at The Muslim Agorist and for other publications. He was born in California and during childhood travels, he was struck by the wonders of nature — a lightning storm over a primordial desert in Arabia, or the cherry blossom petals sprinkling down on the floating markets in Thailand. He spent his adolescence as an outsider, but recently is realizing alienation is not uniqueness, but a universal similarity that crosses all cultures and religions, caused by our separation from our true self and our separation from nature.