Mohamedarif Suleman – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Undoubtedly, we have all seen how times have changed. In fact, we talk about changing times most of our lives. Ironically, the more we talk about it, the less we realise that indeed it is not times that are changing, but values and people who are adopting newer sets of values and giving up on older ones. The fact that these actions are attached to a factorial of time, lead most people to mistakenly address this as a time change phenomenon.
Let us start from the 1980s – imported cars came without air conditioning or power windows or power steering. A decade later, these became optional extras, lending names such as Deluxe and Royal to car badges. By the early 1990s (this time frame with respect to East Africa), these features became a norm, a minimum requirement in cars. The same applies to injection engines, traction control and a host of other features.
The internet, which we tout so much as having changed our lives today, may have been invented for dedicated intelligence use in the developed world, but up until the early 2000s, was a luxury to many down here. It cost a lot of money as well to be hooked and the highest level of technology was the painstaking dial up system. Now all that has changed as we go around carrying flash disk modems in our pockets which cost much less.
Things have changed is perhaps more of an accurate description rather than times. One of the things that caused this major shift was the change in approach by manufacturers from exclusive to mass production making more things available to many. Thereafter, the market forces take over the price aspect.
Then, not many knew about decoders and satellite TV. Indeed, those who had them, were regularly seen showing off their knowledge in social gatherings gaining automatic group membership as well as leadership on account of knowing more than the rest. Today, with information accessible en masse, if a subject comes up, others do not gasp in awe because they have heard it all and watched it too. So what you now see is various interpretations to what they have just watched. Now the rules of social leadership are different – you have to be an expressive and vocal person and one who can interpret things in grandeur style. Better still, if you can become the carrier of some intensely private news, you stand a better chance of making it up the social ladder. So, now comes the bit about rumour mongering, gossiping and social mis characterisation. For many individuals, this becomes the passport to social success and popularity.
Coming back to the subject, it is therefore a given that today more people know more things, and by logical sequence, you would expect them to know more and to understand better. However, the reality could not be far from this presumption. People fight more, there is more social detachment and value systems are being toppled upside down.
The other day, in a class when I had to introduce a new marketing unit came about, the usual question about how this knowledge will help us emerged. The ensuing discussion got broader and the class discussing how having knowledge alone is meaningless, if the right way to use the same is not taught as well. So whereas people appear more and more suave and sophisticated, and prima facie loaded with skills and knowledge, they are simultaneously developing more qualities of self centredness than ever before.
We observe people waiting at the lifts to invade the car as soon as it arrives while purposely blocking those trying to get out. The result is an unfriendly first contact. Inside the lift, they are peeping into each others phones in an uncultured mannerism that resembles prying. On the issue of prying, neighbours have graduated to the stage of spying whereby they create news out of nothingness about their neighbours.
Our new found power and belief, our confidence to talk – all without our precision in knowledge or the execution of knowledge is leading us to profound and perilous junctions from which we will find it ever more hard to find qualities such as trust and honesty.
As Muslims, we ought to lead the way. We are getting more knowledgeable so our focus should reduce on how wealthy, pompous, rich or pretty we are. If the knowledge has come to us in earnest, how can we possibly hold on to such self endearing qualities? This obviously means that our knowledge is making us go away from the prescribed path. While we remain eager to grab on to the best things in life, small values, like letting an elder complete a sentence before we can say, giving way while driving, keeping our gaze lower when looking at other homes and saying nice about friends, family and neighbours rather than concocting stories which yield mayhem.
We cannot aspire to change the world on the feet of our immense knowledge alone if we lack the sane shoulders to execute those changes with responsibility and sensitivity.