Himma is a lost concept for Western Muslims. I’ve seen himma translated as “lofty aspiration” in some places, but perhaps “zeal” gives a better sense of the term.

Being religiously zealous is ridiculed by popular culture on the one hand (think Ned Flanders) and, on the other hand, is considered to be a leading indicator for “violent extremism” by many governments around the world, including the USA with Obama’s “Countering Violent Extremism” program. Also, in our recent history, over the past 20 years, himma has been misunderstood by some and somehow conflated with harshness, intolerance, rudeness, and, in extreme cases, takfir. And then you have the most extreme representation of this: ISIS, who are portrayed and widely considered to be the physical manifestation of religious zealotry. All of these things have given himma a bad name, even though they have nothing to do with true himma.

Even within Muslim communities, it’s increasingly seen as unsavory to be “too serious” about the deen, too fastidious about fiqh and sticking to the sunna, or as it is more commonly known “just sunna.”

To revive himma requires knowledge. Himma without the humility to learn and grow in one’s knowledge of Islam and to be corrected is nothing other than foolhardiness. If himma and hikma can be married, that’s the winning combination. The archetypal example of this from the Sahaba is Umar (rn) and a good example from the anbiya is Ibrahim (as), especially in his youth.

 

Daniel Haqiqatjou

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