Chivalry for the YouTube Fatigued

Don Quixote, the original chivalric hero. Flawed and funny and wonderful.

Lately I have been feeling divided in my experience of Islam. It’s as if half of the time I am within it, and the rest of the time I am on the outside looking in with my nose pressed against the glass.

The binariness of this experience is disquieting. On the one hand, if I pay too much attention to nasty comments made on YouTube clips or facebook miscellanies about Islam, I sink into the depressing awareness that all the dirty laundry of the Muslim world is there for everyone to see – and it ain’t pretty. It’s easy to dismiss provocative remarks as being the result of ignorance, though this is incontrovertibly true; any time I have sat down and researched an upsetting feature of Islamic history or Law, asking people who really know their stuff, I’ve found that there’s little that can’t be explained with a bit of intelligent scrutiny and, most importantly, context.

However, if we were to go through all the ins and outs of Islamic law, its history, the regard given to women, the stories of the Prophet’s family life, hadiths and rulings and squillions of other considerations, we’d not only spend whole lifetimes on our research but also likely get bored and go outside to doodle on a wall or do some other minor criminal act. In short, we would end up with heads stuffed with information but no perspective to view them all from.

On the other hand, if I just relax my critical analysis of Islam, two things happen. First, my head stops hurting. Second, I start to feel uncommonly happy. Not just a passing glee that comes of bingeing on French and Saunders on YouTube, or finding a Noa Noa cashmere jumper in the market second-hand for €2, or finding a recipe online for almond and mandarin cake which people positively festoon me with flowers for serving them.

No, it’s something much lovelier than that. It’s a feeling of basking in a lagoon, the water virtually the same temperature as the air, salt sparkling like scraps of silver leaf in all directions, nothing harmful below in the turquoise clarity of the water, nothing but petal-like permutations of cloud basking with similar delight in the sky overhead. No thoughts. No arguments. No fears.

So when I found this quote below in a glossary of key Arabic terms I am currently translating, I was heartened. It made me remember some of the things that I love about Muslims, and anyone who appeals to me as a true person. I have had enough of demarcating Muslims in a category separate from ordinary humans, as though aspiring to the Truth somehow ought to render a person perfect. That belittles our humanity, as it does anyone we push away with bigotry, mockery, slander.

This is what I want to see in society, not a Shariah Law Britain, not an invasion of Muslims into corporations, not a wholesale conversion of the world to Islam.

This is a manifesto for a better human experience.

futuwwa [futûwwa]: Vigour, strength. It is characteristic of…a generous and valiant person, one who has no fear, who defies adversity. People who are allied in futûwwa swear loyalty to one another and call themselves ‘brothers’ or ‘friends’, since this lends their bond a transcendent importance. Futûwwa means responding to the duty of honour in the spirit of chivalry. Some of its characteristics are as follows: never listening to bad things said of a brother; not whispering nor recording the defects of a friend; practising true humility and modesty; putting oneself in the service of others without discrimination; seeing one’s own faults; being indulgent with others without judging them, appreciating their good qualities; feeling a deep sadness at one’s separation from one’s brothers and doing everything necessary to be close to them; forgiving the damage that one has done you; giving without asking anything in return; remaining constantly loyal to a person who was one’s companion in difficult times.

(Original glossary text copyright Webislam,