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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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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