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On ‘mad men’ in our cities – Part I



[FILES] Brethren, one of my teachers once told this story to us: a man once passed by a psychiatry hospital. Photo: PIXABAY

Brethren, one of my teachers once told this story to us: a man once passed by a psychiatry hospital. He contemplated the serenity of the exteriority of the hospital and imagined the hubbub and the bedlam that would characterize its interiority. He soon saw one of the patients who was peering out through one of the windows of the hospital. Then the thought occurred to him to engage the mad man in a conversation.

He then shouted on top of his voice and asked the mad as follows: “how many madmen are there in your hospital?” The inmate looked the questioner up and down as if in search of the best response to his question. Then he (the inmate) responded saying: “tell me, how many sane people remain out there?!

Brethren, sometimes when I contemplate the contrarieties in our national life, the brazen display and misuse of power and authority, the wanton destruction of innocent lives and properties by those who see violence as an end in itself, the indulgence in corruption by those whose brief it is to prevent its perpetration, the suggestion that there are no sane men left up there becomes irresistible. One gets a sense of a clime populated by men and women suffering from lunacy; it feels as if we are in a season of anomie.


Brethren, the subject of madness has occupied the attention of thinkers and philosophers across ages and climes. In fact, before Islam, the Greeks had explored the phenomenon of madness and sought to engage its multifarious perspectives. Aristotle is quoted to have said that no great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness. In Hamlet, Madness is deemed to be a necessary ingredient in creativity. It gains mention not just because it is an aspect of life but also because there is a method to it. In other words, if you must go mad, let your madness be with and in style. If you must run naked in the market, ensure it is in pursuit of something noble, not ignoble.

Brethren, when Prophet Muhammad emerged on the rigid landscape of Arabia and began to call on his people to forsake idol worship, sexual oppression of women and perpetuation of injustice against the weak, he was dismissed as a mad man. He was accused of being in communion with the Jinns who were teaching him verses of the Quran. The Quran, it must be remembered, represents, aside from its eternal universal and holistic messages, the acme and the apotheosis of literary erudition for which the Makkans were renowned. Since they could not match its inimitable structure and content, they, therefore, dismissed it as the ministrations of the one who is suffering from insanity.

Al-Rasul was consequently declaimed for his choice, to be honest in a season of dishonesty; he was harangued for his choosing to stand by the poor and the orphans. He was accused of suffering from dementia when he called for an end to graft, bribery, round-tripping, and backbiting. Though Arabia was in dire need of a man like al-Rasul for it to be redeemed from imminent implosion, the emergence of al-Rasul, the expected, from an unexpected quarter of the city was, however, deemed an indulgence in lunacy by the power-that be.


Makkah, like the world today, needed the emergence of al-Rasul and his companions so that it could occupy the lofty position it presently enjoys in human history. But once that happened, the Makkans decided to go to war against its own redeemer. One wonders who, between the two, was actually ‘mad’?

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, great European thinkers were accused of suffering from dementia. Van Gogh was deemed to be suffering from schizophrenia, Nietzsche was thought to be affected by paranoid disorder then general paresis of the insane. What about Dostoevski, the great Russian writer? He too was said to have been afflicted with epilepsy.

Brethren, to choose to be sane in a society with predilections for insanity is to be enrobed with dementia.
But the subject of madness which is of interest to us in our sermon today is different from the ‘madness” which men whose memory is interred on the lofty pages of human history. Rather, the madmen of interest to us are ‘un-official companions’ of those men and women who are in a permanent state of dementia. In other words, two types of images of madness could be seen in our cities today: voluntary and involuntary madness. The first, voluntary madness (VM) is consciously ‘acquired’, while the second, involuntary madness (IM) is surreptitiously inflicted; the first is socio-cultural, while the second is spiritual-medical; the first is sometimes incurable, the second is usually redeemable.

Brethren, let us pause a moment to ponder this question: what usually leads to involuntary madness? Two revered scholars in Islamic annals have refreshing perspectives. First, let us consider that of Ibn Qayyim. According to him, “evil spirits usually take possession of those having little religious inclinations and those whose hearts and tongues faith has deserted; those whose souls are dissolute of the remembrance of the Almighty…when evil spirits meet a man who is isolated, weaponless and naked they are easily able to attack and overcome him”.


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