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By Etsko (Ebrahim) Schuitema

Allah has not made us to be socially useful, He has made us to worship Him. Worship means that our fascination is with His attributes, that we regard Him as Significant, and that we recognize that all that is good and beneficial in our lives comes from Him and all that is harmful comes from ourselves. Being worshipful means to understand that we are fundamentally unable to be useful to either ourselves or others, and that when things go right and succeed it is because He made it so. In so far as we have been designed to the end of being worshipful, it means that this capacity to act unconditionally and leave the outcomes to Him is the highest aspect of our nature. The deen is a vehicle to establish this transformation of being fascinated with our selves, our own consequence and significance to being enthralled with Him and His Significance.

The community that we are in ideally provides a context in which this transformation from a life focused on self to a life focused on Allah can take place. The escape from the fatal narcissism and selfishness of adolescence is made possible because, as responsible adults, there is no question about the fact that we fundamentally have more duties than rights, particularly if we have families. It is the duty bound world of the parent that drags us out of the essential selfishness of the adolescent by our ears.

However, this phase of subordinating the narcissism of the self in the process of becoming socially useful both in a reproductive and a productive sense is itself transitory. There comes a phase in every person’s life where the robustness of the responsible adult gives way to decrepitude, with the associated growing disquiet regarding the proximity of death. This is called a mid life crisis. At some point every adult comes face to face with the fundamental truth and that is that all human activity is fundamentally futile, no matter how nobly intended. This sense of futility of our own endevour enables another possibility: the insight that our inability to make things work is the platform from which we can witness how Allah makes things work, stupendously, miraculously.

This suggests that there are two kinds of societies, which one could describe as either benevolent or malevolent. A benevolent society plays its role in the maturation of the individual, firstly by creating the conditions where the stormy, indignant and rights based world view of the adolescent is pounded into the compliant duties based world view of the parent. Secondly and paradoxically, it honours the withdrawal of the elderly into essential spiritual and socially useless activity and, indeed, regards that as the zenith of human aspiration. In this sense a benevolent society provides a pathway for the realization of the highest aspiration in man: God consciousness. A benevolent society is regarded as subordinate to the enablement of the highest in the individual. This society is there for the individual, not the other way around.

A malevolent society subordinates the individual to the social project. In such a society only that which is useful is tolerated and all is subordinated to that which the elite designate as the social good. In its worst form, such as our own, such a society will harness an essentially competitive adolescent psychology in pursuit of shameless accumulation and domination with no regard for the environment and social consequences associated with unbridled self-interest.

The Pharaonic model of society 'uses' the individual for the social project -- often in the name of 'good'This distinction between benevolent and malevolent societies is symbolised by the distinction between nabi Musa and Firaun [Pharaoh]. The pharonic model subjugates the people to the work of the social project. This project is apparently useful, it results in an impressive building, however, this building is in fact a pyramidic mausoleum for the leader. The aim of this mausoleum is to ensure the immortality and eternal aggrandizement of the leader. The people are enslaved to this project principally because of their own need for the security of life in Egypt. They accept their enslavement to the pyramidic structure because, apparently, it feeds them and keeps them secure. Their lives are therefore harnessed and subordinated to work which appears useful but is actually about the preservation of the elite.

The community of Moses is one that 'walks the path' and clarifies itself for the benefit of the individual's growthIn the prophetic model of nabi Musa the work done is fundamentally bizarre. It amounts to an aimless wandering through the desert for forty years. However, this wandering is about enabling a generation of free people. The social project is therefore the means to the end of enabling the people, not the other way round. A pharonic society subordinates the growth of the individual to the social project and the social project is about the immortality and aggrandizement of those in control. A prophetic society applies the social project to the end of enabling free, mature and realised people and the leadership of this society expend themselves to this end. Another perspective on the same problem is that malevolent societies applaud doing what is expedient while benevolent societies applaud doing what is correct, particularly when it is inexpedient to do so.

What is crucial about this distinction is that it is a distinction in intent, not in content. It does not matter how noble the content is, if it is used as a means to subjugate and control people it is pharonic. If the deen is applied to the end of producing good citizens it is a tyrannical misapplication of the vehicle, even if what is being established is a new Medina Munawarrah. If it is applied to the end of producing free, worshipful beings who delight in their capacity to lose all unconditionally it is being appropriately applied. Unfortunately, in most Muslim communities, the former is the case rather than the latter.

When I first became Muslim it became apparent to me is that Muslims and Christians had a very different views of the community of the faithful. The Christians referred to the community of the faithful as a church. At the same time, the same word is used for a building in which worship takes place. This suggests that the community constituted a supra personal structure that the individual went into, like a building. Worse, this building was assigned a persona, in the sense of a legal persona such as in Roman law. Again, the individual was subordinate to the structure, and it implied that it was quite legitimate for the structure to reduce the life of the individual to a resource to be expended in the pursuit of its own objectives. This idiom has survived in modern organisationsal language which refers to people as human resources that are used in the pursuit of organisational objectives.

On the other hand, Muslims referred to the community of the faithful as an ummah, a community. A community is something organic, something comprised of individuals which does not exist independently of or over and above the individuals involved. Properly speaking a community does not view the individual as expendable, as cannon fodder for the cause. A community recognises that if the individual life is seen a purely a means to the establishment of something else, something deeply brutal and aberrant was taking place. It does not matter how noble this objective is, as soon as the individual life becomes the means to establish a social objective then the loss of that life in the cause is like the killing of whole of mankind because it negates the fundamental purpose and calling of being human.

We are not here to be socially useful. Being socially useful is a short epoch in the total journey of unconditional surrender. The climax of a process is its finale, and in the human life this finale is called death. Death does not ask you what you want to get or what you have established for yourself or others, it only asks you if you are able to walk out of your life unconditionally. This walking out of your life unconditionally is an individual event, it is not social. If we sat together on a bus and got gassed to death, this would not be a convivial experience. I would not ask you whether you are still breathing or could still move your feet. We may die en masse but we die alone.

The highest point of human life does not concern the group, it concerns the individual. The group are staggering fickle in their treatment of the dead. They cannot wait to get this scary thing into the ground. They leave you to die on your own. Since your life has this event as its zenith, it implies that you have been designed to deal with more momentous things than purely being socially useful. You have been designed to learn how to submit unconditionally and become socially perfectly useless, like a corpse.

-- The End --


  1. NOW, I'd love your own thoughts and experience on this passage and why this piece struck you as so important? Also, where might you differ slightly with the author?

    I wonder if the same way the religious right of the US has "high-jacked" religion AND the person as their own "social project" is not too different in actuality from the better sounding social left?

    IE, I am wondering whether there is application here - whether as directed to any form of evangelism where it is for a group's own brand of religion as used also for recruiting youth to war. (Various desire for gain of power, money (blackwater versions) oil, etc.

    Yet too we miss so often the sometimes selfish intentions perhaps the non religious left which sometimes would also "highjack" the person for the sake of either the state or THEIR state?

    Even the best ideals are so vulnerable to corruption - perhaps especially when removed completely from any of the reality of the highest values of a perfect Divine - perfect LOVE as HOME and to which, where and who we all are hard-wired to return.

    For many of us here this is the One God in actuality, the One Allah - the REAL DIVINE.

  2. I would have to agree with your interpretation of this post.

    I think I have yet to completely understand what the implication of "to live while keeping death in perspective thus to become a fully conscious free individual [by pursuing consciousness]" would mean.

    I think it necessarily implies that we should not be subservient to any social project.

    But serve any social project that would help us grow into unconditional responsible individuals. [It seems nothing beats raising kids :) ]

    This is the highest view in my world view and I think it helps make sense of a lot of what is going on in the world.

    The examples you mention seem to fit in very well in the application of this post.

    And here I must say that your knowledge of what is going on in the world serves to help you make sense of this post in ways that I cannot.

  3. Dear Faraz and Connie,

    Beware of ideas like these. I do not know how much of this can be attributed exactly to Etsko (Ebrahim) Schuitema, but the way it has reached you is a textbook example of hypocrisy: mixing truth with diabolical evil because the person has intellectual arrogance where others have soul.

    Each of the ideas you have received in this case is a fallacy erected on the scaffold of some crucified truth. It would be safer to discuss religion with Pontus Pilatus than with self-styled saints who perpetuate such ideas.

    In one of his last grand poems, Iqbal warned us against the most diabolical wave of intellectual thought that was likely to dominate the horizon after his death. It was to distract the believers with theological discussions and obsession with rituals so that they give up the project of spiritual social reconstruction.

    Islam is nothing except a universial social reconstruction. Hypocrites has been denying that since Prophet's migration to Madinah till this date.

    Sorry for being so blunt, but I thought that you would appreciate that.

  4. There are three points I’d like to address:

    1. Same time, near the end of the post I am still wanting not the complete removal of the most worthy social causes (some say Jesus was a community organizer).

    From what I understand social projects in themselves are not good or bad but can in a sense be benevolent or malevolent. In the former the goal is to develop the individual [such as the case with Jesus] while in the latter the goal is to develop a pyramid [grand mausoleum for the elite] such as the Pharaoh or any other hierarchical system which supersedes the individuals.

    2. Nor do I think the completely lonely ending is a desirable necessity (this occurred to Tolstoy as you probably know?) yet perhaps the more elevated view of Allah and realism too is what' s missing with most of us - most of the time.

    Death is imminent and inevitable. [They say the way we think has a huge impact on our behavior.] Thus grasping its inevitability in all its wonder is sure to have a transformational effect on us.

    To quote from the post “Since your life has this event [death] as its zenith, it implies that you have been designed to deal with more momentous things than purely being socially useful.”

    I think this does not mean we should not be socially useful but it means that being socially useful is an insignificant goal.

    An example that comes to my mind is Karbala and Imam Hussain [AS]. [See my detailed post here:]. Imam Hussain [AS] went to battle with the Khalif of the time [taking with him his family and friends] into what was clearly a suicidal mission. But the effect of this mission was tremendous. A result was that the Khalif [Yazid] was latter toppled and the truth of his corruption remains undisputed to this day.

    The social project of Karbala was more powerful than any other social project that would have been useful. But I think it shows that “being socially useful” in itself would not have been sufficient for the Imam for his eyes were set on something truly momentous. [Obviously this mission is nothing like the suicide bombings that take place. Karbala was a symbolic martyrdom where the Imam’s companions were so far outnumbered that they could barely inflict a loss of life on the enemy troops. Hence the loss of life of the enemy troops was not the goal. The goal was the symbolic martyrdom of the family of the prophet [PBUH] that would serve to wake up the ummah.]

    3. Is there a way in which the much needed and higher view of God (if not spirituality in general as an apex or the highest form of maturity both individually and corporately) in any way compatible with a goal of all of Humanity as One?

    I would like to quote again from the post:
    “The highest point of human life does not concern the group, it concerns the individual. The group are staggering fickle in their treatment of the dead. They cannot wait to get this scary thing into the ground. They leave you to die on your own.”

    Clearly our journey in this life is primarily an individual journey. That said we have family and we have kids and for these we must be unconditionally responsible. This is important for our individual journey.

    Similarly to contribute as an individual to the largest group – Humanity – in giving to it unconditionally must be far more difficult and enabling for our personal journeys.

    Now, whenever we give unconditionally to the ‘other’ we help him and this is the best we can do for him to grow one day into an adult as well.

    All humanity would be one if every individual would develop into an adult.

    I personally feel this sounds impossible. But we should keep trying for there’s something in it for us.

  5. Dear Khurram Sahab,

    I understand your comment about a divergence [in the post] from the goal of a social [re-construction] project.

    But the way I reconcile this is that the social project is a by-product of the efforts of a healthy mature good muslim [which is the goal proposed in the post].

    These efforts may start small but should [over a journey of maturation] lead the person to a higher collective goal [such as the case with Imam Hussain [AS] in Karbala]

  6. My dear Faraz,

    If I have to wage an ideological war against one person on this earth, it is this so-called Shaykh.

    Everything I stand for is exactly the opposite of everything he says and believes in. Social project is not a by-product of religion. It is the goal of religion. It is the beginning, middle and end of all faith.

    Please look at the last paragraph of your post (which I now understand to be a posting or re-wording from this pseudo-Shaykh). Look at the arrogance embedded in that. Is it not below our dignity as human beings to even discuss the ideas of some charltan who can actually say these things? :).

    It gives me jitters to see that there are people in this world who contain such amounts of evil in their souls.

  7. Of course, I'm struck by the strong response by scholar and teacher here, Khurram Shafique Sahib. I am quite unable to argue knowing virtually nothing about the focal leader at hand.

    I would simply ask to know more about the following at this point:

    "It would be safer to discuss religion with Pontus Pilatus than with self-styled saints who perpetuate such ideas."

    This is strong indeed...more on this analogy will you?

    "In one of his last grand poems, Iqbal warned us against the most diabolical wave of intellectual thought that was likely to dominate the horizon after his death. It was to distract the believers with theological discussions and obsession with rituals so that they give up the project of spiritual social reconstruction."

    Here rather than get into the "diabolical wave of intellectual thought" I'd really appreciate knowing more on the positive side as to the "project of spiritual social reconstruction" which Igbal encouraged - how do we interpret this for the young? And is there a parallel you can formulate for people like me who want to guide youth in our nation?

    Finally to your "Islam is nothing except a universal social reconstruction."

    I really want to know more about what this means and have been interested that a recent scholar minister in my area has spoken to the same parallel goal he believes was originally intended by Christ for Christianity...

    Maybe we can find some coming together among at least these two faiths along these lines?

    To your: "Sorry for being so blunt, but I thought that you would appreciate that."

    Yes, I do appreciate you being strait-forward and warning ALL your students about concerns.

  8. Dear Khurram Sahab,

    I think the key to understanding this post is the understanding of what is meant by submitting to Allah.

    We cannot submit to somebody we do not hear and see? But is it that Allah is closer to us than our jugular vein and we still cannot see and hear HIM?

    I think HE has designed us perfectly. [Even those with mental or physical handicaps can find peace in submitting to HIM.]

    In our nature we have been designed with three faculties. Our reasoning mind, our feeling heart and a third faculty which is an ability to witness reality and vouch for it.

    If we use these three faculties to find harmony in our lives - I understand this is what in essence is meant by submitting to God.

    Thus we can remove those disturbances that [sometimes] only we know or only we can know.

    If we continue to do this our understanding of how the world [that has again been designed by HIM] works will grow.

    I feel any body who treads this path will eventually want to contribute to others [besides himself] for his desire will be to remove any disharmony he comes across.

    Thus after himself will be others around him.

    Thus this 'growth' will automatically lead him to contribute to the 'group' and he should at this point quite naturally turn to thinkers like Iqbal.

    Mr. Etsko's post breaks down for us our FIRST step which is to: start with ourselves.

  9. Connie,

    I am hesitating from answering your query because I do not want to offend Faraz, who is very dear to me. I am grateful to him that he has already approved and displayed so many of my comments which were harsh and direct.

    I just want to offer an explanation. Mr. Schuitema's original post opens with a direct attack on those who hold a certain approach towards faith. He had no need to call it a "distortion of religion" but he did. He could have expounded his own views without derogatory remarks about others but he didn't.

    If you look at the original post, almost every statement of Mr. Schuitema stands on an arbitrary negation of some other point of view. He does not start by saying, "Allah has made us to worship Him." Instead, he says, "Allah has NOT MADE US TO BE SOCIALLY USEFUL, He has made us to worship Him."

    When somebody starts on such a note, and goes on attacking the others' point of view in order to establish his own, he is actually putting fuel on the flame of hatred.

    Now, what happens if this other school happens to be the one to which I belong? Obviously, it would hurt me.

    The worst part of Mr. Schuitema's approach is that when some noble friend of mine such as Faraz tries to find a compromise between the two points of view, it would hurt me more because Mr. Schuitema has not offered a point of view, he has hurled an insult. Why on earth would I like to come to terms with someone who calls my perspective "a distortion of religion"?

    All I can say to such a person is, "To you, your religion, and to me mine" (This is the proverbial answer of the Quran to the non-believers, and was used as one of the winning arguments in favor of the UN Declaration of Human Rights when the declaration was being debated prior to its approval).

    I have written this to explain to Faraz why I reacted so strongly. I hope he understand and would not have any hard feelings.

  10. I thank God [ :) ] that the journey I have chosen and think am treading on holds hard feelings counter-intuitive to its fundamental pillar: self-growth.

  11. Dear Faraz and Khurram Sahib,

    I wanted to share my views on this post since i feel i have gained newer insights since when it was posted originally.

    I am working for Schuitema as a writer and researcher and have begun to research recently on Corporate Social Responsibility.

    Our stand on CSR is that business companies were actually created to serve society by providing goods and services that the society needed. That was the end. The means to this were practices that naturally bore profitability. If you provide goods and services that are needed, and you do it appropriately even if your own interests are at stake, you are fulfilling your purpose and the result is a loyal and happy customer.

    Over a period of time, businesses lost that focus and began pursuing maximum profitsas an end and the goods / services, society became means to an end. THe employees who created the abundance began to be called resources... to be used rather than given back to!

    When companies realised that they faced a blind end on the planet with such unbridled self interest, they thought of showing the world that they were giving back to the world. THats how CSR became a buzzword.

    For many companies, like Enron, CSR is/was a cosmetic measure to secure customer loyalty. they did not realise that had they focused on sincere service, profit and loyalty would have naturally come about.

    What I am trying to say is that being socially useful is not the END. It is the means to tne end of being worshipful. What distinguishes the two is the intent. If you are socially useful with the soe intent of worshipping God then your social usefulness is worship.

    Where the worship is the means to the end of being socially useful, you will be diverted from your designed purpose of worshipping Allah alone and doing so unconditionally. This is manifest in Muslim countries where, ritual is followed that is devoid of essence (with exceptions of course). Consider the fact, that Pakistanis are among the most generous nation on Earth and yet they are mired with corruption and ego. We give Zakat yet we do so as conditioned worship, as a religious obligation, as means to show off, with a purpose to be socially useful (with exceptions again).

    Unconditional worshipfulness is surrender. It is to not focus on achieving consequences like attaining sawab or jannah. It is to worship Allah alone. Jannah naturally comes to those who worship Allah for the sake ofworshipping him and not for the sake of being socially useful.

    The idea is not to forsake CSR or social usefulness. The idea is that these concepts are smaller than the ultimate story... Worship, Surrender, unconditionality.

    Likewise, Sufi saints fought battles as well when they had to... as part of their worship, as part of Jihad to fight injustice. Social usefulness for them came within the package of the ultimate end... uncondtional surrender to Allah.

    I hope I brought some clarity to this.

  12. The journey of maturation is articulated by the author of the article here:


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