Discover more from Avdullah
Peering Into The Void
Some brief thoughts and reflections on my recent art, Islamic history, and philosophy as it relates to Muslim conceptions of the universe.
It’s very easy to blackpill when you’re a Muslim in today’s age, especially one in a western nation. I’ve participated in some of that myself as a means of grounding some delusional folk in reality, but it’s always important to realize that eras of this kind are never permanent. There’s no doubt that Muslims as a civilization are in the middle of a dark age, one infested with a myriad of modernist, secular filth that has decayed and brought a sometimes unbearable heaviness onto cultural and economic life today; however, this isn’t our first one.
Muslims worldwide when learning about Islamic history as children retain the myths of those days into adulthood - primarily the big lie that Muslims were always doing fine under one big caliphate for most of their history, and it was only ruined when the evil colonialists came to conquer us and split us up like one big cake. When you do study it as an adult however, with an unbiased set of eyes and especially from scholars of those ages who wrote it as it was - you realize that though much of what we achieved was miraculous in its scope and proof of the Messenger Muhammad’s ﷺ prophethood, it didn’t stray from the typical tropes and themes across the history of all other peoples. Stories of betrayal, monarchs who were cruel tyrants, fratricide, patricide, Muslims clashing against one another on the battlefield, these were all facts of our history that are easily glossed over. We have not been “one Ummah” since the Caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan (RA), ever since his assassination there’s always been another “group” with loyalties to something or someone other than a case for Islamic unity. There’s also the great caliphates that existed in parallel with the Arab and Turkish ones like the Mughals, and those across Africa which are almost never mentioned.
Take for example the fall of the Abbasid Empire. This was a time when Muslims thought they’d reached their heights, and that Allah couldn’t possibly take their wealth and security away from them. They grew arrogant and delved into the same kind of widespread sin we see today: adultery, gambling, women not covering properly, elites wasting their money on concubines and jewels, just an overall decrease in the spirituality of the people and their dedication to the faith. Politically, the Abbasids were just figureheads with Sultanates like the Ayyubids and Mamluks pledged to them as a matter of show, meanwhile it was the governors and generals who had the real power. The Shiite Fatimids had taken over Egypt, the Crusaders had taken the Holy Land of Jerusalem, and the Muslim presence in Spain that was once dominant was decaying rapidly - it was a disaster for “Muslim unity” and their preparedness, and this was all happening within a few lifetimes.
It was in this era also when the Mongols invaded, and many historians from then confirmed the mood of the time in writing, that everyone thought that the Last Day had arrived, that Gog and Magog had finally broken from their imprisonment and come to destroy them. It also didn’t help that the Mongols told the survivors when they sacked their cities that they were their God’s punishment upon them for their sins.
Everything seemed hopeless. The Muslims looked as if they’d lost everything, and that the good days of secure cities, dedicated scholarship, wealth and a rapid expansion of the religion were over. We think our situation is dire today, but by many metrics it wasn’t nearly as bad as back then, and much of what plagues us because of the technological era is a struggle that has inflicted all of humanity, not just us. No one knew that in a distant land to the northwest was a single tribe of Turkish nomads who’d come to restore all of that and more, fighting back both Mongol and Crusader, and within a few generations after would re-establish the caliphate and conquer Constantinople, ending the Byzantines for good and taking a city that for most of its history was thought to be impenetrable.
Allah tells us plainly: he does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves. What guys like Ibn Khaldun wrote ages ago remains true, and will remain true - every civilization has its peaks and pitfalls, its cycles that for some are torment and hellish struggle that breed strength and resistance, and for others heaven on earth that breeds weakness and complacency. Weak men make hard times, and the young among us today find themselves in those hard times. You do know what the next step in that is, right anon?
Having the “eye” of an artist can lead to strange thoughts, and sometimes more subtle yet equally strange actions. I was raised to have manners, and operate in environments where I can’t do the kind of ridiculous things greater artists who I’ve read of and are my friends do as a way of expressing this pile-up of excessive passion in their souls. Usually this takes the form of a kind of vandalism and drugs, personally I believe the kind of weird behavior artists engage in is an area that if they sealed up would be better redirected in their art. I see stuff of this nature like leaks in a pipe, you’re not getting all the water you can get at the end of it if those leaks persist.
Recently, I took a different approach to those emotions. I decided instead of try and channel it into my art that was already of a more tame and wholesome theme, I’d change the art that was being made. For the past year I was in a bit of a “rut” inspiration wise with regards to my usual character paintings (and how busy I got with my book, which should be coming in June/July by the way), and this was the “click” I needed. I was too obsessed with a specific set of images in my head of a project I was already fleshing out another way, while my desires to animate the other interests that animate me were decaying.
If you follow me on Twitter you’ve seen these paintings: the man with the green gloves, John Brennan being a slave in BAP’s music studio, the obscure internet lore behind the insane “Dominated by Doug” story. I found myself laughing about them for hours after I finished them, this child-like happiness of realizing the most absurd and illegal ideas in visual form. Of course, the settings for these come directly from BAP’s show Caribbean Rhythms, but really he just provided the outlet for the kind of art I’ve wanted to make already. I’m very grateful for this and excited to see where it takes my art in the future…
It’s quite rewarding when I read some work of philosophy (More recently it’s been pre-Socratic) and I find things, sometimes fragments, other times full truths about the world that are confirmed and corroborated by the Quran and the Prophet (PBUH). I feel that many Muslims today engage in severe levels of COPE when it comes to stuff like universal truths and virtue in the world, and assume that because we have the truth from Allah we are going to always be the smartest and all-knowing all the time. Allah himself tells us differently in the Quran multiple times, that this deal of being granted a flourishment of knowledge and the tools to access the layered mysteries of the world, will not always be in our hands.
Thus, it also makes sense that some across the many millennium humanity has traversed, even if they didn’t accept monotheism and Allah through the proper tradition of their time, were allowed access to some insights about the nature of the world due to their efforts and power of will. Perhaps they had some kind of belief, some access to their Fitra, and this was how they ended up expressing it, even if not guided by religion. God does not waste the efforts of man nor torment him needlessly as a rule, and only allows such arrogant weasels among philosophers and scientists to lose their way and be misguided into a rambling mess when they begin to believe themselves to be gods or better than God.
I’ll read a guy like Heraclitus for example, and though much of his work hasn’t survive you can just read his Fragments and find that even a man like him, who lived in the age of Ancient Greek paganism and mystery religions, expressed his natural human inclination to seek out God in fascinating ways. Take his disgust with the useless rituals of his contemporaries at the time, and of his hatred for icons:
They cleanse themselves with others’ blood, as if someone were to wash himself by walking in shit were to cleanse himself with shit. It would seem madness to observe such a man who is acting in this way. And they pray to images, much as if they were talking to temple edifices, for they do not know what gods and heroes are.
It is interesting, is it not? None of us know if Heraclitus had any contact with the people of Abraham, but this is something, at least as I view it, that would be in agreement with our creed. We despise icons for worship and have done so from the beginning because it destroys your relationship with the One worthy of your worship.
Another fascinating set of fragments that I thought of:
Human nature has no real understanding, only the divine nature has it.
Man is not rational, there is intelligence only in what encompasses him.
Although intimately connected with the Logos which orders the whole world, men keep setting themselves against it, and the things which they encounter every day seem quite foreign to them.
It’s a simple few words, is it not? But also very powerful! This illustrates more why I enjoyed reading Heraclitus so much, and from then on Philosophers like him. He does not overreach, he does not “dabble” with matters such as these - he admits in a kind of humbleness where our limits are. This is what it means to me. This is a lesson that extends beyond religion or philosophy, but human nature itself. The masses demand everflowing knowledge and answers from our betters and get disappointed when they realize that isn’t the case, even though the reality is that they’re admitting their limits is the greatest evidence that they know exactly what they’re talking about. You want a leader in life that admits their blindspots humbly, those that claim to know all are sure to lead you to doom.
Stuff like this strengthens my belief - when I come across truths like this that it took great philosophers lifetimes to realize and articulate, I remember that much of it was revealed to the Prophet ﷺ in a much shorter period, leaving behind a tradition that we’re studying vigorously to this day. Our beloved Messenger completed our religion - it’s there, in our hands, seen by our eyes…but the rest of what we don’t know relies on us to find and actualize. His job is done, what’s yours and mine?