Herd mentality – a time for questions

Mohamedarif M Suleman – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Many questions dazzle the mind – especially when it comes to religious beliefs, laws and practices.  From time immemorial, men and women have asked and tried to understand the various facets that adjoin cultural life with life of faith and belief.

Of course, we live in much more confusing times today.  It almost seems as though we have lost the way (the humour about Kho-ja kho gaye may just be one part of the litany that has sorrily gone wrong).  Naturally, it is not just the Muslims whose ship has capsized.  With globalisation firmly rooted in our lives, we see applause emanating from areas where we should be questioning (refer to the news of a female leading prayers in North America being saluted as a major change in the status of women in Islam, for instance).  We also increasingly witness herd mentality as a growing phenomenon in human life whereby it is no longer significant to adjudge right against wrong, rather it is pertinent to have a majority view cast on a subject to make it right and acceptable.

Perhaps the overload of preaching democracy has had its toll on the way people think and react about choices and systems, or maybe it is just going back to rudimentary human behaviour in which survival often depends on aligning oneself to the strongest available group.  But how many of us are really watching and pondering about things tat surround us? About meanings that are now being attached to different things?

Again, the noise in our lives is intense.  There is the noise that comes out of the economic struggle where the solid importance of money has pervaded over all forms of social strata and denominated everything else that hitherto stood as positive values.  There is the social noise in which class and status races are on the rise, effacing the ideals of simplicity and modesty in the process.  There is also noise created by groups and organisations who crowd out opposing views and uphold theirs as the profoundly righteous cause.  This effectively burns out any energy for individuals to fight, oppose or even think about malpractices and violations in rules of conduct.

We need not start very far and instead focus on what is in the vicinity.  About two decades ago, as part of our Indian heritage, music was a household member, hijab was a rare sight, amongst many other idiosyncrasies that characterized us.  With more awareness, many of us started giving up music – but the quickly replacing it with nauhas and then the Holy Qurán.  Notice that once again, we used the smoker’s illusion of replacing one with another, without so much as putting an effort to change our behaviour.  We were tapping our fingers at the beat of the music first and not we were shaking our heads, smiling or tearing and shifting based on the content of the nauha – the element of entertainment refined.

The same story happened with hijab and many other things as if we were doing things without clear understanding or conviction.  Simply speaking, we were following herd mentality, defined as “describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items”

One wonders if it a matter of superior advantage that having been created as the most excellent of creations, our comparison today has been diluted to that of animals.  Again, the nearest that comes to mind to blame at this stage is the ploy by some to dub this kind of behaviour as the quality of unity.  Outwardly, the great migration of the Serengeti/Masaai Mara could be seen as unity amongst the wildebeests, zebras, et al, but is it indeed? Is it not herd mentality  at its classical best?

So confusion is all around us and this has now been fueled even further by the presence of information technology.  Love, a deep human emotion, and one encouraged by religion as well, has been turned into a public affair.  Social media statuses declaring where one is, how one is feeling at a given point in time or sending out a message to someone who is actually or supposedly physically closest to them.  One wonders why the need to wish your own child or spouse happy birthday for example on Facebook, when you live under the same roof.  This rise in public display of affection (PDA) whereby love hate relationships are shamelessly being discussed out in the open, is testimony of our confusion about the purpose of our lives.  Ironically, some discussions about Islam that are so vibrant end up in people using language that is beyond the language of a true adherent.

There is something more that comes to mind – particularly when a practice is institutionalised.  Muslims all over the world organise contests related to the Holy Qurán – whether hifdh or just recitation.  A logical question that comes to mind is whether it is befitting to contend over the Holy book and award/reward based on the rules of adjudication for did not the Holy sixth Imam (AS), in illuminating verse 121 of Al Baqarah say thus:

“explaining the word of Allah, Those to whom We have given the Book read it as it aught to be read: “They recite its verses slowly, and understand it, and act according to its orders, and hope for its promise, and are afraid of its threat, and take lesson from its stories, and obey its commandments, and desist from what it prohibits. By God, it does not mean memorizing its verses, and studying its letters, and reciting its chapters, and learning its one-tenths and one-fifths. They remembered its words and neglected its boundaries. And what it means is meditating on its verses and acting according to its orders. Allah, the High, has said: (It is) a Book We have sent down to you abounding in good, so that they may ponder over its verses” (38:29). (Irshadu’l-qulub, ad-Daylami)

as-Sadiq (a.s.) said about the word of Allah, read it as it aught to be read, that: “(It is) stopping at (the description of) the Garden and the Fire.” (al-Ayyashi)”?

But being no expert in jurisprudence, one may face condemnation (again herd mentality) but something has to make rational sense.  Drawing from history, are we not again creating a forum for entertainment, this time using the holy book?

Another institutional practice that frequently boggles the mind is that of mimicry.  When one watches this on television, it is comical and perhaps good entertainment value.  But when the same practice is used in Islamic schools, asking students to mimic their teachers (refer to various programmes on Peace TV for instance), what message are we carrying forward – laughter at any cost?

Sit back and ask yourself many questions – are you on the right track of mind when you for instance participate in auctions and bidding that sell the beautiful names of Allah or some apparent prized possessions from arcadic Islamic history? If you intend to raise funds for a good cause, must you be lured with such fundamentally wrong and belittling ways?

In the end, we must borrow a leaf from Allah (SWT)’s words addressing the Jews and the Christians in verse 123 of the same sura: “And be on your guard against a day when no soul shall avail another in the least neither shall any compensation be accepted from it, nor shall intercession profit it nor shall they be helped.”

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