Challenges of the Youths

By Mohamedarif Suleman

For the first time in the history of the Khoja Community, an official forum was lent to the youths to air their vision as relates to their age group. The problems and challenges of youths have been otherwise discussed lengthily and eloquently by various leaders and members at side-cart shows, which have alas proven t be mere frustration-venting exercises, so, naturally, when this opportunity was presented by the Africa Federation in Arusha last year, the commotion that it created amongst the youths was equally proportionate. There was euphoria that, like the ladies, who now had representation (whether nominal or substantial needs to be verified scientifically), the youths too were now part of the scenario that the big boys chose to look at.

And while “all is well that ends well” is a pretty safe bet to put one’s money on, in retrospect the programme was mildly unprepared and largely misinterpreted. Under the able stewardship of Alhaj Murtaza Jaffer, who himself is well versed with running workshops with more mature professionals, one problem constantly surfaced in the entire two days of deliberation. This problem was that everyone had a lot to say. One may claim that after years of being bottled up, the feelings were bound to be booted around in various fashions, but the truth is also that the lack of planning in as far as who should have attended the workshop led to a dismal finish in what was billed as a remarkable first. Members of the younger youth age group clashed with those of the upper age group, each trying to focus on their own matters of interest and value, and this led to many things being left unfinished. In fact, it was only towards the end of the workshop that it was understood by most participants that the idea was really to create internal awareness rather than lend an ear to the youths.  And just as we must give credit to all the organizers under the Africa Federation, we must be expected to be critical for the way in which we seem to be managing our affairs.

Perhaps the first question that the community leadership needs to ask itself is what exactly do they wish to do with the youths, or through them. If meeting challenges is the key, have we identified the challenges that face the youth of today? And if we are going to meet these challenges in earnest, what will be the reference point, or the fulcrum of our decision making processes? Will we be driven by youthful emotion and demand, or will the dictates of the philosophy of the establishment of the community as an organization reign supreme? When very day to day things remain unspecified for one reason or another, when leaders speak about migration and resettlement in the same breath, and separated in sentence by a feeble comma, confidence in the vision of any leadership will be hard currency.

If the leadership is empathetic to the plight of the youth, then it must as well be prepared to steer it into mainstream societal issues, and seek realistic and practical involvement. The World Federation President, Alhaj Hasnain Walji, in his remarks earlier at Mombasa’s Executive Council Meeting said that the community should stop considering the youths as a special attention group. He felt that in doing so, we were quietly sidelining their participation in various affairs. An apt question that one must pose is whether leaders of today were the beneficiaries of any particular youth programmes of the past. The answer, an applausive no, would warranty many of the thing we nowadays do, is aimless and consuming. Yet, because the intention is based on the honesty of leadership, we only need to pray to the men and women occupying the big seats, that there should be planned or directional movement in achieving forward movement. What we need today is not to meet the demand of youths that they need English majlises or that using laptops and mobiles should be permitted inside Imambadas, but to create an appreciation of the current systems (where logic permits) and an acceptance to join the rest of the society not as outside individuals but as very core members of the whole universal set.

Of course, this sounds anti-Youth, but it is time we focused on correctness of issues rather than dilly dally around those old issues which seem to nag us over and over again. When youths want recognition from the community, it can only be done by becoming a part of the community. Not by staring at the mosque walls from a distant, lashing out in American some very sarcastic issues that reek of animosity, not fraternity. But for this to happen, can we guarantee them an honest and open form of leadership? Open questions, open answers. Let us read between the lines before the lines become the very boundaries that confine us in inaction.

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Rajab Reminds of Imam Ali (AS)

By Mohamedarif Suleman

The onset month of Rajab inspires a natural feeling within the hearts of many brothers and sisters of devotion and submission to Allah (SWT). It also brings to the mind the fantastic adventure that occurs on the day of Me’raj, and of course the memory of one of the world’s greatest leaders of all times, Imam Ali bins Abu Talib (AS).

Imam Ali’s life is undoubtedly lined up with a series of very high profile episodes, amongst which are included in his supremacy in writing and speaking, in addition to the excellent other virtues that he so soberly possessed. History is replete with incidences of the small and big victories of this great personality. And the mention of Imam Ai (AS) seldom goes unaccompanied with the utterance of a great book, a collection of his speeches, letters and words of advice, the Nahjul Balagha, or the Peak of Eloquence.

The first letter that is constituted in this book is the one that he wrote to the people of Kufa prior to his arrival and engagement in the Battle of Jamal. In this letter he demonstrates and lays precedence of what a leader out to do, and how closely his actions are watched by the masses. So much that the need inside of him to relate and rationalize events to them is as vital as leadership itself. In this circumstance, he explains the reason for going to war with Aisha and the incidences that lead to the killing of Uthman, one of the wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in the following manner:

“People were dissatisfied with him and were accusing and blaming him. Out of the muhajirs, I was the only man who wanted to appease and pacify the people, and did not want to indulge in the activities of those dissatisfied persons, while Talha and Zubayr were instigating the populace in such a way that the least they said was the worse that the worst could be asserted or alleged against Uthman. Their whispering campaign was deadlier than the loudest propaganda which could be carried on; Aisha also exhibited extreme annoyance and anger against him. Under such conditions, some persons resolved to kill him…”

This piece while showing the pattern of his thought also releases vital information about the movement that led to the assassination. The choicest words picked up are a lesson in diplomacy, except that unlike modern day diplomacy, this particular style does focus in on the masses as the rightful owners of state information. That lying to the people is not only a compromise but a betrayal of the very faith that they have vested in the leadership.

Imam Ali’s caliber has always been high, and like so many other marginalized sections or persons that history has witnessed, the defenders of his greatness did reach propensic stages of revering him. And it is not just a particular sect of Islam that considers Imam Ali as God, we now find that through the carefully carved and deigned words of lyricists and poets from the Indian Sub Continent, we now find such utterances in our imambadas today. The opponents of such utterances are often wrongly seen as rebels to the love of Ahlul Bayt and the creed of fazaail of our AImmah (AS).

But when we hear in munajats the implied understanding that we have for those who believe in Imam Ali as God, there is little we can say, because this great personality also lives in our hearts at that great level, the crux of our teachings and the epicenter of our values seems to be suddenly and perhaps accidentally submerged into the beliefs and values of a misguided community.

For many years, Khoja mosques, by virtue of their ancestral connection to India and Pakistan, have been the platform for the arrival of certain zaakireen whose only forte in majlis is the issue of Khilaafat. Many writers, scholars and even leaders protested against this unseemly behavior because in their vision they did envisage this practice leading to some other horrendous faith changes. And true to this supposed assumption, the change has been gradual and so silent that we are hardly able to recognize this.

The month of Rajab, brothers and sisters, then reminds us of how Imam Ali (AS) used to tremble in front of his lone deity, Allah (SWT) and that he was hardly an immortal. This month brings various favours and blessings to us, but the richest favour that we can do ourselves and our progeny to come is to ensure that, even unknowingly, even in implication, we do not consider Imam to be godly, for our actions not withstanding, the interpretations by our young will not be much to be pleased about. May Allah (SWT) guide us aright, Ameen.

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Changing Values – Are We Watching?

Mohamedarif Suleman – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In one of our brief meetings at the mosque, my friend recalls that as he tried to relax with his family on a breezy Saturday afternoon at Dar es Salaam’s hotspot, the Oysterbay Beach, he was not only dumbfounded at what he saw, but was actually forced to fire his engines and leave even before he could actually enjoy the cool and soothing view of the beach. Next to his car, a young couple, barely married a half a year ago, Ithnashe of course. The young woman, dressed in a tight fitting top blouse, and figure hugging trouser, did have a scarf on her head. They were accompanied by some other members of the family. Slowly, they all came out of the car, and is usually the case, settled for the bonnet of their small car. Much to the amazement of my friend, the young woman went and sat on the laps of her husband, and they then started exchanging very cute and lovable gazes, and of course treated themselves to the crisps, and kichwa naazis that were on offer by eager vendors.

Fifteen years ago, when this very friend of mine went to London, he was similarly stunned when a white young and in all probability unmarried couple, publicly started to indulge in a very private matter, and he had said that if this ever happened in Dar es Salaam, the public would not tolerate such a thing. Naturally, he felt defeated and betrayed, and remembered with melancholy that although those days of deprivation under socialist rule were difficult, we still had our most precious possession – honour, respect and dignity. He did drive away from the scene, but he had to spend the rest of the evening, discussing and at times arguing with his teenage children, of why this was bad. He then told me he had set up an effective communication system with his children, but on this occasion, the children were using the same channel to tell the father that “at least, she was with her husband”, kind of things.

The issue that has just been narrated, is not unique to Dar es Salaam, and is not in any way meant to target any one population. But the issue here is that the most backward country of those days, has now reached the UK of 15 years ago, in social contexts, and is fast pacing ahead, engulfing all of the newer generation in its fold. Most children now watch television that was regarded vulgar in those days. Not that the man-woman relationship was unknown to the people who lived in those days, except that they were unanimous in the fact that this wonderful relation, even when institutionalized, was not for public display.

And then you probably have heard of young men and women who endlessly fight their parents, because they wish to wear prohibited outfits or want to stay out late. Little is usually done by parents, who are themselves guilty of watching nude MTV shows or even others that are daily occupied in showing the body of a woman. Last week, there has arisen uproar in India, where the country’s top two cities have come under fire because of how dangerous they are for women. Rampant assaults on women and in cases of rape have been unearthed in Delhi and Mumbai. In all opinions given by experts in news channels of the country’s major cable operators, amazement was echoed by the speakers that whereas suppression of women was not anything new in the country, why this expression of sexual audacity was being accelerated so widely. This surprise of course, is hardly in tandem with the social ruin that the entertainment industry has caused by constantly and consistently propagating that sexual expression needs to be pronounced in public. Look at any Indian Television advertisement today (arguably, some of the finest cratives in the world today), and you will see that the selers and media companies are tellinf people that all products have a relation to sex, and that it is vogue to be public about it.

Role models of society are at the same time playing negative roles, due to a well rationalized backdrop of oppression. Top film and TV stars all over the world, who are virtually revered by throngs of masses, are today playing negative roles and winning accolades more than those playing goodie roles.

There is a widespread confusion and as a community, we need to effect steps to curb this situation. Sexual audacity, when it will tomorrow stare use at the face, in our own houses, will stun us just as it did stun my friend. And on that day, we will not have arguments to support why “older” values are right and the new global ones are faulty. After all, even today, when you tell a young man to wear respectable clothes at home, he would tell you that you are living in the Jurassic age. Young people aside, adults in our society are as well confused, because on one hand they insist on segregated Islamic seminaries for their children and on the other, they are lobbying for women participation in meetings, or of mixed gatherings “under hijaab conditions”. Will we finally bend all the laws? Are we not silently swaying in the same way that the kaafirs are deviating from their lord? Is Satan not fulfilling his promise of distracting people from Allah’s way by making everything appear colourful and glamorous? The challenge today is to set the right rules, the right examples, and the right priorities. Of spending our human and monetary resources in saving a social collapse, and not in brick and mortar which will then be occupied by lip serving Muslims.

 

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In God We Trust…

Mohamedarif Suleman – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

More often than not, when miseries afflict us, or when problems of any nature are encountered, the steel of our faith does not crumble for within. This, after countless hours in prayers and an enormous investment in worship and seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt) Even the Almighty retorts to this fact time and again in the Holy Qur’an when he categorically states variously that in the time of darkness and absolute need, man’s faith shakes.

That, exactly being the point and in all relevance, there is evidence that as individuals as family heads as business leaders, we sometimes feel as though there is just no way beyond an impasse. For those who do exhibit faith, which inevitably involves the passage through times of suffering and trial. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Imam Ali (AS) emphatically stating this scenario expounds, “Put faith in Allah. Seek his protection. Direct your prayers, requests and solicitations and supplications to Him and Him alone. To give as well as to withhold lies in His power.” The logic of these statements is also implicit of the fact that even though we see men of wealth and of power in this world, all of them are mere trustees of Allah (SWT), who also puts a test on them of whether they are there for people in times of need. A local councilor for instance, is called to much agony when he finds that there are other political interests to consider on one hand, and the call to assist a Muslim brother on the other. Or even if that means going out of one’s way there is definitely a trial for the persons of power.

As economics have sliced into most of our brothers living on East Africa, we see a dramatic rise of people whose credibility is now questionable. Seeking money through false pretenses or through haraam activities while now rampant should not be the means to achieve world prosperity. Many tales of our brothers who first migrated to the West during time when religious hostility was commonplace, openness in society was unreservedly imposed upon people and many other vices, most stood their ground of building and adhering to family unites that passed on the culture of religious values and family traditions. Some did succumb to evil and bad conduct that has all but eroded their existence as true Muslims.

Therefore, trials and troubles should be encountered with dignity and above all faith In Allah (SWT) for He alone has the capacity to create ways. This, of course, does not mean that in searching for solutions, one should bottle up his problems and refuse to divulge to his friends or well-wishers. These same people are the ones in whose hearts Allah (SWT) puts mercy or divine guidance so that they may extend a helping hand. But in the first place, did we rest our total and unconditional faith in him?

Imam Ali then prologues, “Know that Allah owns the treasures of the heavens and the Earth. Not only has he given permission to ask for his mercy and favors, but also has he promised to listen to your prayers. He has not appointed guards to prevent your prayers from reaching him…”

When one diverts from this philosophy, then treacherous behavior and vulnerability to Satanic interference increases, and religion goes out of the window. A classic example, which one can quote from very interesting sequel documentary being shown on Kenya’s family TV (a Christian broadcasting service that lashes out at Muslims and Islam in many circumstances) on how the systematic decline of religion In the United States has caused nothing but decline. In the programme titled “Broken Vows” , the narrators remind Americans that the reason why America was founded was because there was religious persecution in 18th Century, England, and because there was oppressive taxation. When the colonialists first landed in Virginia and in York town (New York/New Jersey), there annihilation of the Indians and the victory against the English navy in the Battle of York town, were all credited to divine assistance, and a “hand of the supreme provider”. America’s constitution itself is living testimony of how Christianity was embedded in it, and how God and Divinity were integral parts of the legal formulation. Great leaders such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, William Penn, and even Ronal Reagan, always stated in their public appearances that without God’s help, America would never have achieved its successes. A French outsider visiting America for the first time is then quoted to have said that when he saw religion in every aspect of society, he was overwhelmed. He said that “America is great because it is good, but when America ceases to be good, it will cease to be great”
Harvard University, the first higher school of learning, in its original entry requirements did submit to this fact that the school purported to the advancement of bible learning and promoting religiousness in society. Leaders of the time, their schools included, all promoted the consolidation of family units to inculcate discipline in society because it was well appreciated that if freedom (another reason for the migration to the Promised Land) was to be benefited from, it had to be rooted in the religiousness of society, or else this very freedom would kill its own members.

Later on, the programme reveals how religion and state were separated through a high court ruling in the 1970s and how biblical sins such as abortion, sexual promiscuity and homosexuality were legalized as a result. It is said that the founders of America deliberately declared the US as a republic as opposed to a Democracy. Because in the former, all god-made laws would remain unchanged, but in democracy (people rule), if citizens of a nation decided that murder was not a punishable offence, murder would cease to a crime.

The above example shows us how departure from god’s commands and the replacement of faith in Him by worldly needs, has killed the great nation that America was dreamed to have been. Similarity to Islamic teaching is but striking. Islam, too, through its laws, seeks to establish faith in Allah (SWT) and the strengthening of family units.

In the end, Imam establishes, “Think over it that by simply granting you the privilege of praying for his favours and mercy, He has handed over the keys of his treasures to you” But are Muslims thinking and learning!

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Community: Conflict or Harmony? Part 3

By Mohamedarif Suleman,

Nairobi, Kenya

In concluding the series that touches on our “rule of government” in as far as persons and personalities are concerned, a closer look at the general membership – the third and last category of our organizations, is imminent.

Mathematicians, statisticians and social scientists are well familiar with the normal or parabolic curve and the implication in social setups. For the benefit of the others who may not have acquainted themselves with this affair, a normal curve (one rising from absolute zero towards a certain apex point or peak, and then falling off towards the other end of the point of origin, forming a parabola shape in the process) really represents the composition of any general setup. It is thus translated that in any society, there neither exists the highest number of people (peak/apex) who are not inclined to any extreme, i.e. they are neither for nor against any subject, policy or idea, and are clearly neutrals. The are moderately active in social progress or equally passive. In contrast, the two extremes represent, one end of the continuum that is made of active and energetic people, or a group that is for a certain motion. The other end, near the point of zero, comprises of those individuals who are least inclined to the others. They are nil in contribution, or are best at critically opposed to all other things that the opposite extreme stands for. This is how we actually derive those common political terms such as “leftists” or “extreme right”, etc. But it is the peak of the curve, the general membership that we are really concerned with in this scope of discussion.

Having churned out a long mathematical explanation to the class of people we are now dealing with, it is sufficiently relative to suggest that most of our members are silent, passive and those who are prepared to “blow with the wind”. You will inevitably find them in large numbers at election meetings as a vital electorate and sordidly absent during other general meetings. Whichever way, they seldom speak and are usually nodding to the best argument on the floor, or a personality that rules the day.

As boring as this class of people may seem to be, they are also what economists would call risk averse subjects. They prefer to be in alignment with whatsoever is in the seat and frequently keep their opinions to themselves, or occasionally locating those individuals who they think might adequately represent their views. They are a great silent majority, whose only prowess is the vote in their hands. But it is their numbers that makes a success of failure out of any function or event.

Whether we belong to the first, middle or third class or the community (wherever we are on the curve), there are a few things we must be able to realize in order to abstain from naivety. Our communities, unlike other organizations, have a dual system of governance. It combines the professionalism of a formal organization with the traditional aspects of a closed family structure. Also, the organizations run to serve two further purposes – one to attain the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and the other to cater to the needs of the membership, both congregational and individual.

But one cannot escape asking a few important questions if a proper conclusion is to be drawn out of this sequel of events. Must we always submit to this fact that leaders will always emerge from a wealthy class, that in fact, and as per the constitutions of various Jamaats (bankruptcy clause), it is only an economically stable individual that can take the lead? Of course, the original purpose has been to dissuade people from entering into Jamaat “politics” for reasons of material profit as we now see in national politics, for instance. And yes, it is true that a leader usually has to expend more that what his description entails, in terms of material, human and time resource, and therefore it can only be done by a person whose status is sound; but have we been able to offer any check and balances against the misuse of this original idea? Do we today not see the class structure that our prophets sought to dismantle in every society they went to?

Another glaring question is whether our systems, dependant on the dual systems mentioned earlier, must continue with this retrogressive manner of, say, funding, whereby the “begging bowl” is always out. For projects massive in size and numerous in count. Must there always be increased pressure on a people who have funded these institutions for ages, but are now either incapacitated or indisposed to further giving? When will all these giant institutions achieve self sustainability so that they now begin to genuinely and impartially look after its populace?

And lastly, are the organizations able to attain the pleasure of Allah (SWT), when the number of disgruntled people increases at the end of every end of term in office? When the politics of the day are actually promoting the anti community spirit rather than creating future stalwarts, is there any pleasure involved? On other hand, when accounts are being doctored practically everywhere in our jamaats (usually without any ill motive, but with the objective of meeting deadlines and allowing for furtherance of operation), when many less fortunate members are looked down upon, when welfare cases are ridiculed, when education, medical, housing are all linked to certain foundation funds that never seem to kick off, are we really pleasing the people we intend to serve?

But it would be gross to state that our leadership and our system are poor or that they are meant to serve a particular class of people, for in reality it is the system and not the leaders or the workers, that needs an upgrading (not an overhaul). With changing times, more contemporary relevance has to be brought to fore so that the original foundations of this glorious society standing on its feet today, and in fact an envy of others, is not dissolved like inexpensive perfume with increased external influences. Being the envy of others is not reason enough to think all is well, just as asking a few nagging questions may not really be a proper definition of outright and destructive criticism.

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