Community: Conflict or Harmony? Part 2

By Mohamedarif Suleman,

Nairobi, Kenya

If one asked any social researcher about the ingredients of considering how fairness, justice and education are related, it will be known that it is imperative that one deals with how people expect to be treated and how they are actually treated is first established. Many issues, even when they appear to be limited to instruction and common sense, actually involves questions of justice and fairness.

In the first part of the sequel “Community: Conflict or Harmony?”, the conditions under which leaders separate, their environment, the opportunities and threats that beleaguer them, were seen at a glance. The discussion now rolls on to what the article purports to call “the workers”, their viewpoint, and what they go through in rendering their services to the community, all within the context of the organized system that we have established over the years.

It is said that many of the ways in which we think about the problems of fairness and justice today were formulated by Aristotle in his treatise on ethics written in the fourth century BC. The end of justice, said the great thinker, is to “produce and preserve the happiness of the social and political community”. In other words, it is the good of others that is sought through justice. Of course, his theory advanced further categorized the two basic standards of reference for justice. One, he said, was justice in relation to law, and the second was justice in the sense of having one’s fair share.

It is not uncommon to hear, after a hard month’s (Muharram, Safar, Ramadhan, etc) services, for ahead volunteer for instance to retort how this may be his last year of service; or that the system is rotten and how he/she have been meted out with poor treatment. In other or more relaxed months, the same individual may recount the happy times and the achievements of their middle-level leadership in delivering the goods that the leaders sanction and the general member expects. Such a class, which compromises of a wide spectrum of workers – right from the vocal PR team leaders to those quieter, behind-the-scenes types. All of these persons are nevertheless pivotal in running the day-to-day organization of the Community.

From very early days in adolescence when young adults start serving their first nyaz, disappointment rages as per the dictates of the human nature. After all, such a service usually involves tremendous participation of one’s physical as well as emotional self. And elders are quick to reword that very popular cliché or adage that “working for the community, one should not expect reward from people…”, that the “result of working for the community would be a kick in the back…”, and so many others. But even if this were the stated law or rule, in which case once hurt, a worker should feel justified according to the first of Aristotle’s pretexts, one cannot but scale the monumental work that he or she does versus the lousy treatment that he or she perceives to get, or actually does. Because while he laid down principles are very straight forward, not everyone agrees on how we decide who and what deserves to be rewarded.

Borrowing from another very exciting proverb, “The responsibility rests with the government”, it may be construed momentarily that the cause of this very resource plundering activity, where we each year lose thousands of workers through self-incrimination or lack of appreciation and regard from leaders, is the mixing and blending of two very contrasting styles of government. Or is it three?

Like the identities of most Khoja brothers who are citizens of one country, estimate from one state in India, speak one other language amongst a host of others, and live in a completely different place, in addition to being practicing Muslims, our systems of leadership and organization too are over burdened with workings of multiple systems.

When a chairman presides over a Managing Committee, his committee members are workers in relation to him. In playing his balancing act of appeasing, say, donors, he invariably sacrifices the momentum and the vigour that his members have. Even when he later sidetracks to take a moment in considering the members’ viewpoint (which is usually after a decision has been taken), his action only helps in neutralizing the persons’ anxiety to serve, an attitude of passivity, and “let the Chairman do it all”, starts creeping in. on the other end of the spectrum, when volunteers give their all in serving people, they are occasionally rebuked by a select group of people who are out to prove their own point. The conflict goes down, and at the end result, unlike what Aristotle said, would be the common grief for all.

The worker perennially considers himself or herself as a used force, as a person who is called upon at the time of need, but discarded when things are normal. This important and energetic class, in the face of a total lack of support or motivation from the leadership or the general membership, finds itself in a crossroad, finally resulting in the kinds of statements earlier quoted.

The dual system style of leadership in which a President expects the professionalism of a corporate officer, and the sacrificial tendencies of a Muslim volunteer simply failing to click in awe of gushing human emotions and needs. Reward, when needed, even by a simple pat on the back, is not forthcoming. Punishment, always at hand in different forms, is aplenty in supply. Is the community then a congregation of harmony or that of conflict? How can we then change or modify our systems so that our successes are strengthened and our weaknesses are overcome?

In the last part next week, this article will look at the general membership. Views, comments are invites while the discussion is ongoing.

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Community: Conflict or Harmony?

By Mohamedarif Suleman

Allama Sayyid Mohammed Hosayn Tabatabai in his book “Islamic Teachings: An Overview” (Translated: R Campbell, 1998) writes of his environment in such a manner, “Naturally, everyone has tasted the sweet and bitter of life in terms of his own experience. I, in turn, have found myself in varied environments faced with all kinds of vicissitudes, especially since I have spent most of my life as an orphan or a foreigner, or far from friends, or without means, or in other difficulties. I always sensed, however, that an invisible hand has delivered me from every terrible precipice and that a mysterious influence has guided me through a thousand obstacles towards the goal….. Though I be a thorn, and though there be a flower to grace the meadow, I grow by that Hand which nurtures me.”

Each person, through his or her own experiences and exposure, is each day subjected to new learning. Depending on the severity, harshness or flexibility of his or her own environment, the experiences are transformed into positive, negative or indifferent attitudes. It is undoubtedly true to state that after the establishment of Khoja Shia Ithnasheri Communities, this institution has influenced the lives of all of its members.  For some, the experiences are always bad and distasteful, and for many, the mere presence of a supervising body, is a source of relief and comfort.

This week’s edition is an attempt at understanding this institution that is the subject of such enormous discussion throughout the world; a body that makes us live together following the same rituals and practices whether administrative, internal legislative, religious, cultural, social, or otherwise.

In order to understand any system, one must first be able to identify its components, or the parts that make it up. Our community has three main divisions from the point of view of institutional management and role, we have leaders (and kingmakers?), worker class and the more passive and silent majority that falls under neither of the earlier categories. So, like the bee family, we too seem to have clear distinctions for the performance of our individual and collective roles. More important it is to understand that each group is dependent on the other, and no one group is, practically speaking, more significant than the other.

Whereas any grouping has both a positive and negative impact on the lives of those that it purports to collect, organize and institute, the original objective is always for the common good, It would, therefore, be futile to enlist the pros and cons of a community structure has half of the population is probably vagaries of an institution. And in any case, let the decision of whether a community is a collection of people in a positive trait or not, remain the prerogative of each individual.

Leaders – persons and individuals who take to the steering wheel of our society, and who for ages have been the focal point of whatever success that the community achieves and take the blame for much of the afflictions that we may face. But the evolution of this role has far exceeded the planning that accompanied it. After all, the community was really supposed to congregate people of Shia Ithnasheri faih from the Indian Sub Continent and lead the smooth path towards the free and unhindered practice of the faith.  But with time, the grouping in question started to develop needs; those needs that had to be brought to the attention of leaders. For instance, leaders had to empathize with the presence of less fortunate members within the community, who needed financial assistance, or that there were cases of new settlement that demanded that there be a housing project. Funding was of essence as well. For in order to cope with all the different needs of the community, leaders had to draw on a reservoir of wealth that could be used to alleviate society of its troubles. In summary, with years of operation, each subsequent leader had an additional role to perform apart from the original task of manning communal  dual-system organization today in which traditional practices are well augmented with a lot of professional endeavour.

From the leader’s point of view, there are various obstacles. Decisions that adversely affect one group, and please another interested party, or the ability to drive the community forwards in the face of adversity, are all issues that are a perennial headache for any Chairman or President. To add to the woes of the society and leaders in particular, western external environments, though well established media services, have now encroached almost entirely on every other single sect or communities, thus changing the way people think forever. This, yet again, presents the problem of the “thesis-anti-thesis” type from Marxist theory.

Leaders, often unsatisfied at the way people treat them, seek solace in the fact that they are serving the cause of Allah (SWT) and that they need not seek any material reward from human beings. Yet, attracted to the very mundane phenomenon of incentive, reward and appreciation, are compelled to lead paradoxically. They, simultaneously, give up their precious time and other resources in achieving newer things for the possession of the community.

Many questions arise, some of which must inadvertently corner leaders – both past and present, who have resisted the challenge of improving on how the community works, or its system, thus making it ever so difficult for people to understand proper organizations. Also, in contemplations is the way general members respond to changes in leadership and society. Are they the ever obstructing force that they are reputed to be? And if so, is this friction positive or detrimental? Who decides? There are obviously going to be three facts to this discussion…the leader’s viewpoint, the thinking of the third category, and that of the working class. Are we a community in conflict or harmony?

In the following edition, we will take a glance at what the working class observes, but readers are invited to send in their thoughts and ideas on both the current article and the one to follow.

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Oh My Soul!

By Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

Islam, a religion of spiritual nourishment and enlistment, a body of laws that caters in essence for the soul while not neglecting the needs of the mind and the body, a religion whose every action – both mandatory and optional, is geared towards the near vicinity to Allah (swt). For every action that we perform, we are reminded of the need to be accounted for in this world and the hereafter. The battle against the soul is as continuous as the process of life itself.

The behavioural science theory of the Id, Ego and the Super Ego, may not be any different between the three types of nafs that the Holy Scripture talks about – Nafse Ammara, Nafse Lawwaama and Nafse Mutmainna, but the appreciation, regardless of one”s faith in the theory of creation or of evolution, remains that a person lives his life embroiled in a constant tug of war between the mind and the soul. As the month of Safar begins and we continue mourning, not the physical or material loss of the Holy Imam and his family and friends, but the act of betrayal by the Muslims, the usurping of the Holy Prophet (saw)’s teachings and values by tyrant forces, the inhumanity demonstrated by mundane leaders and our absence from assisting the cause of Allah (swt), we must throw a second glance at our living, and whether we are taking the required control over our soul and its caprices, or are we victim to the whims of a world that is increasingly promoting material, physical and shameful culture. There is no question of subjectivity or relativity here, because as Muslims, the basic laws remain the same regardless of passage of time. The consistency of, say, alcohol remaining haraam or that of sexual indecency being prohibited has remained a constant, rather than a variable that modern living requires us to adapt to.

Are we, for instance, throwing lavish ceremonies and living in outward luxury when the mass of population remains starved and deprived? Are we misusing our power whether economical, political or otherwise social? Are we in charge, or is it the psychologists’ id and ego that er in control? Questions we need to ask, answers we need to seek. A leaf from the writings of a celebrated poet Kahlil Gibran is excerpted  to echo a man’s struggle against the waywardness of his soul:

”Why are you weeping, my soul?

Do you know my weekness?

Your tears strike sharp and injure,

For I know not my wrong.

Until when shall you cry?

I have naught but human words

To interpret your dreams,

Your desires and your instruction.


Look down upon me my soul: I have

Consumed my full life heeding

Your teachings. Think of how

I suffer! I have exhausted my life following you.


My heart was glorifying upon the

Throne, but is now yoked in slavery;

My patience was a companion, but

Now contends against me;

My youth was my hope, but

Now reprimands my neglect.

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Following the Letter

Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

Allah (SWT), with His profound eagerness to guide humankind to eternal prosperity, and to ensure that the species passes the mundane test with flying colours, did not leave any stone unturned when it came to both implicit and explicit instructions in the Holy Qurán. And yet when we often murmur to one another that the Holy Book is a complete code of conduct, we seldom appreciate the weightiness of such a statement.

Using clear instructions and disguised sentences, Allah (SWT) reminds man from start to end, the vitality of eternal salvation over worldly taste and  greed. In typically noteworthy discourses to momineen in Nairobi, Alhaj Mohamedraza Datoo, covering an open-ended subject “Wake Up call”, recently did cover these very pointers with efficiency and fluency. He cited variously the avenues where the Book mentions parables and similes to convey to mankind the issue at hand.

In Sura 5:6, it is stated: “This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the people of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the people of the Book, revealed before your time, when you give them their dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues. If anyone rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).”

A closer look at the extensive verse will reveal various key words (Lawful Food, people of the Book, Chaste Women, Lewdness, Dowry or Bride Price and Faith). It is a fairly light minded verse which does not require much interpretation by a cleric. Even then, if Muslims, on one hand proclaiming unanimous love for Qur’an, indulge in the very things that have been categorically mentioned in such a verse, what would be one’s judgement about Muslims? This verse is just one example where we choose to exercise oblivion to the teachings of the Lord. Perhaps, most of the time, many do not even know that even such things have been mentioned.

And that is alas the biggest tragedy of our generation. Muslims themselves, having failed to learn and practice their own religion, have surrendered willfully to the vicious practices of the materialistic kingdoms of our time. When Muslims suffer at the hands of their own brethren, when there is female oppression in Muslims more than in any other religious communities (despite the highest accord of women in Islam more than other schools of faith), and when there is moderation and convenience of practice, why on earth should anyone blame an outsider for their misdemeanors against Islam and Muslims?

Then, on a trip to the UK, tucked away from any gazes, we would partake a big slice off a bif Mac (lawful?), or engage in marriages with members of the idol worshiping sects (People of the Book?), and also prefer more “modern” women over the hijab-donning woman, and expecting lewdness at times (refer the rich Arab society), (Chaste?)

So, what is the bottom line? What is all this hype about blaming outsiders when the real people to blame are we? On the Day of Judgement, there shall surely be an accounting for our active preference of luxury and pleasure of this world, of name and fame here, over any privileges that we so ardently pray for (with understanding?) during the month of Ramadhan after Dua Al Iftitah. Or are there other interpretations, such as the one that we have today seen with Jehad being to destroy and destruct, rather than to struggle and to strive? Do we now see why it is so easy for outsiders to conquer Muslims?

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The Tail and the Head

By Mohamedarif Suleman,

Nairobi, Kenya

Students of African Literature are probably familiar with this analogy depicted in the header above. Whenever it came to the question of the youth, the African sage always remarked whether it was wise to let the young (tail) lead the head (elderly), or whether it was possible. Islamic history teaches us of one such incident when a very young man was called upon to lead a unit in a battle, only to invite the wrath of the well established veterans , who felt incensed that this should even happen given their long experience.

In modern day, the entry level for adulthood has consistently been drawn down, and as a result not only do we have under-10-year-old PhD’s but 20 year olds who earn in six figures as well. Our community, like all other peoples of the world, has for time immemorial been trying to deal with the problem of ever-demanding youth. And for the purpose of this discussion, we would as well have to clarify that when we speak of these youths; we normally refer to those under-25, and unmarried generation, for it is nowadays commonplace for over-40s to persist in becoming youths themselves and why not, is age really a state of mind?

R H Lesser in “The Growing Youth” offers an argument of the growing youth who needs to be restrained and directed, “as an animal that must follow his instincts”. But when the animal is mounted upon or controlled, say, by a shepherd, there is a stricter measure in the vanities of the animal. And so by design, a youth must accept that in order for his strength and vigour to be harnessed in the most positive manner, he must encourage the shepherding by an elder person who has passed the very path that he is now walking in amazement. And at the same time, it is the older generation’s responsibility to ensure that such opportunity is not wasted or mistrusted. For if it is, it is adequate to repel any such father- son, mentor- follower relation in future.

The responsibility of such elders is to guide the thought of these young men and women that we are looking up to for tomorrow’s leadership as well as relationship. It is up to the elders to train their thought in trying to assist them evaluate and accept why certain Islamic or even Indian traditions that we today hold so dear, are in fact in the best interest of the preservation of the family unit, and hence the society.

Last week the popular queen Latifah talk show was aired in the local free-on-air channels of Nairobi, and the focus was on teens that spoke of their problems with their parents. Most children, it appeared wanted understanding from their parents regarding matters affecting their lives. Nothing wrong about that, in fact a very healthy and important essence of their lives. The only problem was that they were seeking understanding for the sins and crimes that they had committed. Girls were feeling guilty for having had premarital sex. But they were not feeling so because they committed social offence, but rather that they really wanted to share the experience with their mothers, but they knew that they would not understand. Boys, who did drugs or got others in trouble, even causing death, were flimsily avoiding the issue with their folks, who they felt would only shout at them. So, all of these young men and women had decided to deal with the situation themselves. This is the kind of paradox that the Western society builds over morality today, that whereas it speaks gloriously about communication being open in their own societies, they have trouble in their own backyard that they are unable to handle. And this would apply to any family that seeks to depart from Islamic teachings in pursuit of some man-defined open communication, flawed and faulty as it may be.

In the end, it would be awful if we did not address a problem that the “heads” themselves create. Leadership by example. If the head does want to lead, it must prove its worthiness. If at the age of 40 plus, it is still wagging and wandering like the uncertain tail, it is creating a leadership vacuum. A father, aged 30, says that he cannot sit in a majlis because (a) it is boring (b) the Urdu is tough (c) another 98 reasons; is not giving much room for preaching and sermons in future. Perhaps that is why the Prophet (SAW) did mention China as the ideal destination for acquisition of knowledge. China would have been boring, and the language should be a tough excuse, plus of course all the other 98 reasons. But do we really care? Then, why are we averse when it comes to the tail leading us? Majlis is just one example, but we do find that we practically live life with a barrage of excuses when it comes to practicing religion or assuming leadership.

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