What We Have Become

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In a world that tends to become more materialistic with each passing day, poverty is often defined and understood as an economic and financial state in which a person or an entity survives with limited resources. Keeping this definition in mind, it becomes relatively easy to define who is poor and who it not. Thresholds are set and people are put into categories according to their socioeconomic background. From an ethical and philosophical perspective, I don’t see anything wrong in that. In order to better understand a population, statistical tools are often necessary to gauge the well being of a given society and wealth is an obvious factor in the better understanding of how a population is striving.

The real problem arises when material wealth becomes a synonym of well being and happiness. Unfortunately, this association now finds firm foundations in people’s minds and the concept of a perfect life is often defined according to materialistic standards. Learning from lessons life has taught me, I now have a different idea of what poverty actually is. Far from being understood in economical terms, I define poverty as the absence of what is dear to you.  Within the scope of this definition, a wealthy man can be poor if things he desires cannot be bought or owned. Furthermore, in such a setting, it is also possible that a poor man could have access to what a wealthy man is after and therefore be ‘richer’ from a non-materialistic perspective.

The reason why I have come to this realization is because I’ve never felt ‘poorer’ in my life than now. Since this new low point of poverty I have hit is not reflected from my socioeconomic situation, I had to add other dimensions to the concept of poverty in order for it to reflect my reality. In essence, my poverty arises from the same conflict defined above. It arises from being deprived from what is dearest to me: my time.

I have been working seven days a week for the past couple of semesters. This unprecedented workload meant that time spent reading and writing on weekends was no more. My mind was constantly used for tasks it had to do. It kept running back and forth on paths it didn’t always want to visit and stopped wandering in colorful alleys of discovery. This new schedule also meant that little distractions that often unknowingly brought peace in my life had become rarer. There were no late night walks, no more sketching, no more culinary discoveries. All the ways in which I used to express my creativity were taken away from me. My mind had become a caged animal, merely repeating the words it was given. I was afraid it would forget what it was destined to be. I was afraid it would forget Iqbal’s eagle it so wanted to emulate.

This period of life made me realize that death the way we know is just the physical disappearance of one’s existence.  There are other forms of deaths in life. Forms, which seem less violent, perhaps because you can experience them and still come back to life. In my case, the constant suppression of my creativity was the closest encounter I had with death. I had not died physically, but my mind was momentarily deprived of it’s own soul: it’s capacity to think.

Now that I have started to come back to life again, I often think about a saying attributed to the holy Prophet (s) that says: “Die, before you die.” [1] I have often read commentators (2) referring to this hadith, or tradition, as an invitation to voluntarily kill one’s ego [3] in order attain new realms of spirituality before physical death would come. In my case, I think of this tradition in a different way. My death was not so much of a voluntarily act of refraining myself from what is forbidden. It was actually the contrary. I had experienced death by getting away from the world I was destined to discover. I had killed my intellect rather than my ego–which in a way, is one in the same.

Perhaps, the greatest lessons I learnt from this period of time is that life is not worth living if one cannot be intellectually free. This realization made me think of a famous saying attributed to a man that best symbolizes freedom in my mind: Imam Hussain (a), who has famously said “Death with dignity is better than life with humiliation.” Surely, the context in which these words were pronounced by the grandson of the Prophet (s) was slightly different. But in essence, these words still resonate in my mind and I find them to be more relevant than ever. Unlike Imam Hussain (a), humiliation in my case is not so much the inability to act upon what I believe in, religiously speaking. Humiliation in my case has been my mind’s inability to realize it’s true potential and fulfill it’s own destiny. In other words, humiliation for me was not much the absence of acting upon one’s free will, rather it was the process of being stripped from something even greater: the ability to have a will itself.

What is then the link between the death of the intellect and poverty? I had previously defined how modern denomination define poverty and explained how I thought this definition didn’t tackle philosophical and metaphysical aspects of our existence. Bringing the ideas of death and poverty together, I feel the absolute and most detestable form of poverty in life is being deprived from the ability to use your own intellect.

I have witnessed a lot of people whose minds have been stripped away from them. It is a sad reality. Even more depressing is the fact that most are not even aware of it. These thoughts often remind of a famous couplet by Josh Malihabadi [4]  that says:

“Let humanity awaken, and each tribe will claim Hussain as their own.”

Perhaps, it is when we will stop living a life of humiliation and gain consciousness again that we will come to terms with our own existence. Perhaps, this is exactly what Imam Mahdi (aj) is waiting for. Alone, in absolute darkness, the Imam of our time is waiting. The realization that a single man’s patience has, by far, constantly exceeded that of billions of people who claim to follow him is a heartbreaking one.

A number that once seemed so modest to me, 313 now seems like a far cry.  So many yet so few. This is what we have become–impoverished of the one thing our soul needs most: the awaited one.

[1] Allamah Majlisi, Biharul-Anwar, vol. 69, pg. 57.
[2] Hasanzadeh Amoli, Sharh Uyun Masa’il Al-Nafs, pg. 154
[3] Light Within me, Shaheed Mutahari, Ayatullah Tabatabaei, Ayatullah Khomeini, Part 2.3 Rules of Attaining Spiritual Perfection
[4] Poem : Hussain aur Inqilab (Hussain and revolution), Josh Malihabadi
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