I used to reckon myself ‘right’, morally better than others I didn’t agree with. Compared to them, I was a Saint and they were the kind of people I could judge because they were Sinners.
Emboldened by my chosen position, validation from others who judged like I did, I was a good person and those unlike me were dirty and immoral. I mean. just look at them; how they eat, drink and live. An ideological stance once taken seems immovable, fastened by the cement of pride and protected by the self-righteous indignation of asserting that I must be right. Yet life itself is always moving and so is everything within it, including me. Those Saintly qualities in the real world revealed themselves to be untenable qualities to uphold, imperfect and transient.
The surety of what we consider God’s gifts are easy to enjoy and feel assured by when they come, but when they go and no sight of anymore becomes the present moment, the savage shame of doubt ravages one’s resolve with an overwhelming reality like when the night reveals itself as the larger truth from the temporary illusion of daylight. The Saint becomes bereft of all his assurances and gifts, slowly abandoning his resolve to the harsh reality of the biological alter of his own lowly needs. Suddenly those sins don’t seem so unreasonable or unworthy to embrace, so many others do it and they’re not so bad. Maybe
I was a bit judgmental in my youth, but now I am less naïve about the human experience and its imperfections. And before I know it, I had become like those I judged. I was now the Sinner. I indulged in the life that I once looked upon with disgust, I engaged other Sinners and saw that they weren’t so bad either, they were a lot like me and perhaps behaved in ways that I judged because of an unfair assumption I held or because a void of love they hadn’t yet overcome. Now a Sinner,
I was met with judgment by my old friends the Saints, and what a shower of pricks they could be. Devout in their lack of life experience, having never endured anything outside of their judgmental comfort zone, it was like trying to reason with an older version of myself, an impossible task because he would not yet possess the life experience that would yet challenge him.
There was once in his heart and mind most definitely a God; the creator and sustainer of all reality, cognizant of all that was in his deepest and secret chambers including the unmentionable fatal seed of doubt. The rituals and affectations that signified his once saintly identity no longer served any use, they had revealed themselves to be false idols. A way to gain the validation from others and deny the innate curiosity of his own mind. To rebel against the consensus is considered apostasy, but to deny your own curiosity is slavery to the man-made idol of peer validation. To think for oneself fearlessly at any cost is to courageously embrace the path towards discovering truth. Such is the story of one known as Abraham.
Such concepts and intellectual pursuits are hard work, are of almost no value in the modern marketplace of the capitalist-material world. If you don’t pray, eat pork, drink alcohol and sleep around, you won’t go to jail, no one can stop you and nothing bad is going to happen. Religion was clearly something to control people, so you might as well enjoy yourself before you die. Touch and eat all you please, don’t worry about anything else. Consume all you can, be a good consumer and stare at your phone.
If you live long enough and pay enough attention to the life in which you inhabit, you might see a pattern emerge. There will always be beliefs, doubts, facts and new revelations. There will always be good guys and bad guys, those who consider themselves Saints compared to those who they consider Sinners. Judgment is an inescapable function of the human experience and it will forever characterize our existence. You’re the good guy in your story and the bad guy in someone else’s, such is the majesty of the design which you participate in with your very existence as a human being.
Having considered myself a Saint and falling short, having become like those I judged and revealing my sins, having been to both these extremes, a middle path reveals itself. And now life becomes a far more exciting journey to endure and thrive in, so that my experience and presence might help those who might fall into the same ignorance and doubt I once possessed. I am here because previous generations endeavoured to provide a better life for the future, thus the responsibility for the next generation is in our hands. Let’s not let them down.
I called my show “Saint, Sinner, Sufi” to illustrate my adult life and who I felt I’ve been and become. I was “The Saint” when I thought that religious affiliation and rituals were sufficient to establish my worth in life. I became “The Sinner” when life became tough, I had lost all my money, my career, had a shattered heart and felt wholly unworthy of life and tired of faith. Now at 38 years old, on the middle path between those two imposters, I loosely utilize the word “Sufi” to describe that Islam might offer a profound personal journey devoid of the anger and judgment that Muslims have almost become exclusively characterized by.
Imran Yusuf: Saint, Sinner, Sufi will be at the Edinburgh Festival 2nd-26th August. For tickets and more information, please visit www.edfringe.com