Once upon a time, around 2500 years ago, there was a Hebrew camel herder who owned a large herd of camels. This particular camel herder wanted complete control over his camels. Because, you see, if he completely dominated his camels, he would be able to get them not only to do what he wanted, but also do things which were against their camel nature. So, in order to do this, he established many commands that the camels had to obey. If they didn’t obey, they were severely beaten. If they did obey, they didn’t get a reward, but just didn’t get a beating. There were so many directives the camels became confused and were subsequently beaten even more frequently. Move this way a little, right hoof out, move left a lot, and on and on and on.
As a result of the excessive commands and beatings, some of the camels gave up hope, laid down, and refused to do anything. Some quit eating, because no matter what they did, they were punished. Some attempted to run away from their master out of fear. Others became aggressive and began fighting with other camels, and charging at their master. So, due to the camel herders extreme need for dominance and control over his camels, the opposite happened – he lost control over his camels. They didn’t obey, but disobeyed.
Let us fly through the sands of time to another camel herder, but this one is Arabian. This particular camel herder is ruler over all camel herders in our present day and ordered his camel trainers to do the same thing of incessantly beating his camels. Slowly, some of the camels gave up hope, others became anxious and fearful, and others became extremely aggressive, especially towards the weaker camels. Because these herds were so much larger, many more began acting overtly aggressive towards the camel herders. The camel herders in response began beating them more and more. As a result, the camels became deranged such that their aggression became unpredictable. As a result, the land of Arabia became chaotic and dangerous for any camel herders including the ruler. The camel herders give an appearance of effective control, but inwardly are motivated by the selfish need for power and dominance.
Do you know of whom I speak? As I’m writing this in Starbucks, a man asks me about the book laying on the table next to me. We begin discussing religion and Islam as he has taken university Islamic courses. He mentions listening to an Islamic professor discussing Wahhabism and its development. The professor stated he believed the Bedouins who would circle a city in ancient times, in the same manner would begin circling cities as they became larger modern metropolitan areas and infiltrate Islam with the very tribal ways the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was attempting to eradicate with the revelations of spiritual truth from Allah during his lifetime. Goose bumps.
Shaytan is always behind the scenes, hidden from view, because if recognized, he loses power. It is when we can’t perceive the hidden evil and sin that his power is allowed to grow. The outward expression of the evil that is hidden results in chaos and destruction. Allah’s power is evident as what is seen in the light, by love, compassion and forgiveness. He only disciplines out of love to assist us from going astray, and rewards us when we are on the right path. He is merciful, displays loving kindness, and is bountiful in His blessings.
However, many leaders hide behind their religion and use control and dominance methods to establish authority. This way the leader can manipulate their followers to even go against what their religion teaches, and allows them to have complete autonomy in their leadership with no other authority. This is typically what is seen in fundamentalist, legalistic expressions of religion. It is an outward show of extreme adherence to rules and regulations that doesn’t necessitate positive spiritual transformation. Because of a leader’s strong adherence to a religion’s supposed rules, most followers believe them to be an accurate human representation of what their religion teaches. However, it is the dark form of a religion in which Shaytan hides his actions. Remember, evil is most powerful when it is hidden.
Star Wars: evil as manifested in Darth Vader
We all have the capacity for either evil or good, and sometimes it is a slow slide downward into the dark side. Dr. Philip Zimbardo, Social Psychologist states, “The barrier between good and evil is permeable and nebulous.” For example, Anakin Skywalker was the son of a slavewoman, Shmi Skywalker, who dies, and leaves Anakin in the hands of a father-like figure, Qui-Gon, who was a positive role-model. Qui-Gon dies leaving Anakin under the mentorship of the evil Senator Palpatine. Senator Palpatine slowly manipulates Anakin’s weaknesses so that Anakin begins doubting what is right, and as usual with evil, Anakin’s descent into the darkness is a slow annihilation of the soul. That is the hidden nature of evil, which can only grow in a person’s psyche when it is not acknowledged for what it is. As a result, Anakin transforms from a human into an emotionless robotic-like figure whose real identity is hidden behind a mask.
Wearing a mask may actually increase destructive behavior towards others. Dr. Andrea Litamendi, Clinical Psychologist, states that “Studies have shown that anonymity and deindividuation are associated with increased aggression and rule-breaking.” Also, frequently, people hide evil intentions behind facial expressions of friendliness, love, or compassion. As long as their true intentions are hidden, their sin and evil can continue unchecked.
Lord of the Rings: evil as manifested in Sauron
In the Lord of the Rings, the character of Sauron slowly becomes more and more evil. Sauron had the ability to transform his appearance, and in the beginning he assumed a beautiful form, but then transformed into a sinister shape after switching his allegiance to the evil Lord Morgoth. As evil took over his personality, his outward form could no longer hide the evil, such that he emanated only darkness. His evil grew hidden from others and even himself until goodness could no longer restrain its power. There is malignant growth in the darkness of our minds which hides sin and allows evil when we are not aware. Sometimes it is so subtle, the depth of depravity isn’t recognized until it is way too late as with Judas who betrayed Jesus and then killed himself when the the light shed truth into his darkness.
I remember when my son was in elementary school and frequently played a Nintendo game called Paperboy. I didn’t allow violent video games, so thought the game was harmless. The game was played by making sure the newspaper was thrown into each driveway with more points obtained if the paper landed on the front stoop. However, once when watching him play the video game, I observed the largest amount of points given when the newspaper hit a window and broke it. Oh well, it’s just a video game, right? No, it is Shaytan lurking in the shadows. Subtle, but evil nevertheless. It is a whisper of darkness slithering into the subconscious of children that rewards negative behavior.
Hypocrisy is another form of hidden evil. It is the snake with forked tongue, or the person who speaks out of both sides of their mouth, in which the intent is to hide their true thoughts.
The Qur’an on hypocrisy: “Of the people there are some who say: ‘We believe in Gd and the Last Day; but they are not true believers. They would deceive God and those who believe, but they deceive none but themselves. Sickness abides in their hearts and God increases their malady. A painful punishment awaits them because they are false (to themselves). When it is said to them: ‘Do not spread corruption in the land,’ they say: ‘We are the only ones that put things right.’ Truly, it is they who are spreading corruption but they perceive it not.”
Ziauddin Sardar commenting in his book, Reading the Qur’an: The Contemporary Relevane of the Sacred Text of Islam
“They do not believe like the ‘others believe’ — the bulk of the Muslim community. But the point is that they do have some sort of belief. They have, like all other Muslims, dipped their little finger into the Infinite Ocean of God’s Mercy. For most Muslims, engagement with God leads, or should lead, to taqwa, which makes them cautious, watchful, humble and acutely aware of their social responsibility to the rest of humanity–the term incorporates all these meanings. However, ‘hypocrites,’ who do not start out as hypocrites, travel in a different direction. They think that their appreciation of the Divine gives them a special dispensation: they not only understand God’s truth but actually embody it. It is in this sense they are trying to deceive God, though them themselves ‘do not realise it.”
The hypocrisy that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught is another symptom of the hiddenness of evil. The hypocrite displays a behavior that appears good, while his or her heart’s intention is set on evil. Sardar explains it well by stating the hypocrite is attempting to deceive God but without even realising it are deceiving themselves. Almost all sin has an element of deception that encapsculates the sin so that it is hidden. Any believer who intentionally sins must add deception to hide their sin. The believer who sins, but is not initially aware of their sin does not have the level of awareness that keeps their actions in the light. Both types of sin can become insidious and grow because of the hidden aspect.
Some people’s personalities are so disrupted by childhood events that the risk for evil may become greater in adulthood. The character of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars is a perfect example. Because Anakin’s mother was a slave, both experienced extreme hardship, but this was balanced out by the positive intervention in Anakin’s life of Qui-Gon. However, this balance is interrupted by the death of this much needed father figure. Anakin’s psyche develops a yearning for the balance of a male role mode/father figure such that he becomes a prime target for Senator Palpatine. Because of the enormous suffering and upheavals in Anakin’s development, he slowly develops an overwhelming need to dominate and control. For if he has power and can control events and people around him, he will not have to experience again the lack of control and helplessness he experienced as a child. And the drive for power is a dangerous element that is reinforced by the release of dopamine in the brain, which is the same chemical reaction of addiction.
It is lack of awareness that can lead to falling into temptation. For this reason, believers need to understand the importance of continued reading of the Qur’an and prayer. The constant reminder of pious behavior as taught by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) keeps our minds centered on Allah, and allows the light to eliminate the darkness where Shaytan hides. Be aware of the deception which allows for behaviors that are not righteous, while outwardly adhering to Islam’s pillars of faith.