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On ‘mad men’ in our cities – Part II

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“… and they say, “Indeed, he is mad. But it (the Quran) is nothing except a reminder to the worlds.”

Now Ibn Taimiyyah adds a different but equally useful perspective. He says a man may become a victim of demonic possession if he falls in the track of a Jinn which has excessive sensual or sexual desire. In other words, just as we have humans who engage in debauchery and bestiality, just as we have humans who seek pleasures in animals and other species outside their own, there are Jinns which equally seek pleasures from creatures other than their own. Once they find some among humans who catch their fancies, they possess such individuals. Jinns equally possess humans out of mischief or out of anger.

Let us side-step this in order to get to the subject of today’s sermon. Brethren, when we contemplate the two states of madness I mentioned above, namely, voluntary and involuntary madness, we find uncanny similarities and lessons. For example, when you look around our cities, you would see men and women suffering mental dementia and insanity; men suffering involuntary madness. They parade the streets and pathways of our villages on a daily basis.

In fact they are the real occupiers of our nation. They usually bask in an unusual state of happiness. You remember that mad guy in the market square. He dances round the city. He runs and walks without aim or goal. But is that really true? Is the madman’s movement actually aimless and useless? Is his happiness futile and banal? I am of the opinion the answer may actually be in the affirmative: that there are pleasures in being mad which none but the madman and woman can explain.

An evidence to show that there are pleasures in madness probably lies in the vocation of the madmen and women. An ordinary madman and woman is a busy-body. Both strive, on a daily basis, to create an ‘empire’ for themselves, for their world – an empire of garbage, of debris and detritus. Pause a moment in front of the ‘palace’ of the mad man in your neighbourhood and he would remind you of your humanity. She is surrounded by his world: a world of pleasure and of material acquisitions: of disused television sets, of brooms and pans, of mats and mattresses, of pots and utensils, of homes that are actually homeless.

In other words, dear brethren, the madman is human and cannot stop being one. Except that he hardly cries; except that he hardly experiences emotions of loss and pain; the mad man and woman are mirrors of other mad men and women in our society – those suffering from acquired madness. Brethren, those suffering from acquired madness are essentially humans, like those mentioned above. But unlike IM, they experience fits of madness because of their incontinence and their excessive acquisition of material comforts. Like involuntary madness, the voluntarily mad man feels a sense of completeness only when he is surrounded by the material- the useful and the useless. Like those suffering from IM, the voluntarily madman equally gathers every rubbish and scrap he can lay his hands on even though they are of no use to him! In fact, he carries and conducts his affairs as if he is mentally deranged. He lives amidst the community as if he lives all alone. He prefers to be alone, to eat alone, to sleep alone and, yes, to die all alone. Like the mentally deranged, he lives in the inside as if he is on the outside.

Brethren, the VM man could be the billionaire on the street. He builds houses for those who would fight over and inherit it. Al-Rasul once asked his companions: ‘who among you loves the money of his inheritor more than he does his own?’. All the companions chorused: “we all love our money, not that of those who will inherit us”. But al-Rrasul said the similitude of he who loves someone else’s money is he who keeps his money away and refuses to spend it on the path of the Almighty”. But the voluntarily mad man would be happy counting his wealth as they accumulate. He would not take heed of all admonitions. O mankind, thus goes the admonition. You have been distracted by the rivalry of piling up worldly gains against one another. You will never be satisfied until you get into the grave. (Q 9: 34)

Heedless of these divine advise, the mad man in the village continues to live life as if the curtain would not fall. He buys estates all around the world. He derives pleasure in the ephemeral, in the transient. He builds his hopes on the sand. His ‘madness’ would manifest once you attempt to take away one of the needless from him. He would charge violently at you once you tell him that what he gathers from the world is like collecting water from the ocean with bare palm.

I once contemplated the balloon which was used in beautifying a hall for a marriage ceremony. From a distance, the beauty conferred on the hall by the balloons was simply infectious. But after a while, the balloon began to explode one by one. It felt as if they were programmed to implode, to self-destruct. The beauty and ambience they wrought in the hall consequently disappeared. Then I began to wonder: could this not be the best similitude of the enjoyments and the earthly pursuits for which these mad men desire to kill and maim? Are these balloons not ideal metaphors for the world, for dunya? The Almighty has revealed the secret of the world to humanity in many verses of the Qur’an. On the day of resurrection, a man would be asked: How many years did you spend in life? He would respond: “We tarried there only for a day or part of a day. Ask those able to count!…”.

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Oladosu is a Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan.


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