Understanding the Americans

Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

How much do we really know about the Americans? While we are very quick to lambaste them for all the trickery and treachery that envelopes the Planet Earth today, few of us can really understand or justify their actions at times, and inaction at others.

But before we venture, very briefly this week, into what drives the Americans, we must first concede that, like the proverbial knife, the American bad is as crucial as its good. This Great Nation, as they have called it, is a leader not only in military warfare and political ambition, but is as well a beacon of science and learning. It is amazing, though, that the Americans themselves, despite the resources available to them, are one of the least educated lot themselves. So, while we attach a lot of negative attributes to the US of A, we may as well, momentarily though, submit to their endeavors in the wide field of education.

But the problem with all this is that the Americans control the world media today. With a new sense of rationale and logic, they bombard us with literature that justifies and at times subsidizes their stance. The American political lingo for this is National Interest. Anything that they want to interfere in is labeled “…of National Interest”. This, to the common American, is sufficient explanation to all the military madness that the politicians can hype. So what drives them after all?

Hedrick Smith’s Introduction in the book The Power Game – How Washington Works is a befitting description of the make-up of the American Nation. He says: “We Americans are a nation of game players. From Friday night poker and Sunday bingo to corporate rivalry and the nuclear arms race, Americans are preoccupied with winning and losing. Competition is our creed, it is knit into the fabric of our national life. Sports and game shows are national pastimes. Either we play games ourselves or we take part vicariously. We swim, cycle, jog or play tennis – making it a game by matching ourselves against a rival, against a par in golf, or against the stopwatch when we hike or run. Five out of six Americans spend several hours a week viewing football, baseball, boxing, bowling, or some other sport on television. One hundred million people tune into television game shows weekly – forty three million people to Wheel of Fortune. All over the world, people are playing at commerce on one hundred million sets of Monopoly. Some people treat life as a game, to be won or lost, instead of seeing it in terms of religious ethic or of some overarching system of values.”

This says it all – all you ever wanted to know about the essence of this infinite obsession with world leadership. It’s a game, don’t you see? It’s absence of any faith that drives them into mundane exhibition of strength and weakness. Turn your eyes around to the soaps you see on KTN, KBC or STV, it’s the same – it’s all a game.

Now that we have a basic understanding, we might as well profit from their educational and scientific advancement, and build our own Great Islamic Nation. Sitting back, watching someone excel, secretly admiring their forward-looking economies and lifestyles, are tantamount to hypocrisy and a flair for the very double standards that we accuse Washington of (not that they don’t hold any water!).

The problem, one may be compelled to think, with Muslims globally today is that while they chant to the tunes of anti-West, very few are in love with their own countries, their own people, their own local systems…Given half a chance, they would fly down to the West – in the name of education, in the name of security, in the name of future for children, and in the name of medical care. While there, they knowingly get woven into the American fabric. Alhamdulillah, due to the close knit nature of our community, our brothers and sisters have been able to uphold their religious and cultural values. If anything, the distance from the mosque has caused greater thirst for religion. For those of us who are here, let’s understand that it’s the American Ideology that’s a problem, and we will succeed only if we learn to analyze issues on the basis of reason and Islamic values, not on emotion or popular sentiment.

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Are we Serious about Propagation

Contributed by Mohamedarif Suleman,

Nairobi, Kenya

Every year, momineen all over the world go through painstaking efforts to organize a Julus on the Day of Ashura. The entire resident Shia population of that particular Jamaat participates with full dedication and without reservation. Parading barefooted, and clad in black to commemorate Imam Husain (AS)’s martyrdom, the procession aims at showing the members of society of the state of our grief and the reason behind our propagation.

Many critics have earlier pointed out that the nature of our processions no longer serves the purpose for which they were first intended. Yet die-hards of the community whose belief in any age-old practice us at times so rigid have compelled various leaders to take the third way. In taking this way, processions would be arranged, and a bit of compromise would be made in say, reducing the number of shabeehs. A quick look at the gathering will indicate that banners are usually well hidden from the general public, covered by hue alams and julaa. As a result, the interpretation of what we are demonstrating remains open to the wild imagination of the passing public, giving us little opportunity to explicate the message of Imam (AS).

This is a sorry state of affairs that even after years of talk, talk and talk, leaders have shown tremendous reluctance to reverse the trend. For one moment, each one of us should question whether this is a mere ritual or an affair of propagation, and if it is indeed the latter, what achievements if any are made annually.

A group of boys this year led a mini survey of by stander enroute our procession in Nairobi this year. This was by no means the first time such a survey was carried out. Past results have revealed highly derogatory remarks from the general public, results that would cause Imam (AS) to wonder of our true commitment to Islam. Anyway, so this year there were various responses. Some felt that since we had just tarmacked the El Molo Drive, this was an opening ceremony of the same. Others responded saying this was one of the Hindu processions and we were supposedly mourning the death of one of our gods. These are replies that are reminiscent of a previous survey some years back in which the Hindu comparison is repeatedly mentioned. One may be quick to retort that the people usually attach those properties to unknown events that they are familiar with, and express them in terms of those words that are known to them. And since Nairobi is a predominantly Hindu stronghold within the Asian Community, the general public identifies us thus. But a valuable point conceded in making this argument is that we would have to be similar to Hindu processions for is to be affiliated by them.

But Nairobi processions are held during daylight. If one were to participate a Julus in Dar es Salaam, for instance, where lots of fan fare goes into the making of a huge gathering, one would be sheerly bemused. While on one hand, we express sorrow at the loss if a Great Leader, the procession is comprised of nothing but shine and sheen. There is glitter all over, magnificent lighting and intricately woven symbols that only we can understand.

We are either to naive to understand that this entire exercise is meaningless if the aspect of communication is ignored in its entirety, or our Hindu origins are finally catching up with us again. For Indians and Pakistanis, our Julus are perfectly fine because the practice in the Indian sub continent matches our practice here. But again their audience is different, it is predominantly Asian. For us, it is different. It is time we stopped vilifying those who are seeking a scholastic approach to a systematic termination of absolutely partisan rituals. Islam is a religion of logic and reason, not emotion and fanaticism. It is surprising that while we dig out for reason in all other aspects, we repeatedly fail in our duties to the Imam (AS) year after year due to an intense lack of the same attribute.

At the end, we shall have to answer to Allah (SWT) as to why we knowingly indulged in an affair that was of no meritorious consequence to His Message.

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A Higher Value

Mohamedarif Suleman – Nairobi, Kenya

A lot has recently been said about changing values of our society and so on. The eternal feud between members of the older generation and those of the current one is predictably cyclic. If anything, these differences, these so-called gaps of generations have been there since time immemorial. For at no one time have the expectations and perceptions of these two varying age groups been similar. A youth has to go grow into a higher age, perhaps outside what defines youth, to accept and practice certain hard core facts. In the same tone, one has to be a youth in order to possess that zeal, that unique enthusiasm that is necessary in , say, spurring a revolution. Both sides of the coin, you may say

Equally true are the conflicts arising between members of the opposite sex. Increasingly, both new and old couples are plunging into the inevitable conflict of individual roles in a home. The female sex, obviously wary of Islamic emphasis put on their rights are out to ask for equity, if not equality. Men, on the other hand remain strong disciples of the age-old teaching that the place of women is in the “kitchen” only. Again, a situation that has existed since marriage itself. The only difference is in the prevailing environment at the time. None of the sides are wrong, and yet neither is correct. A paradox?
Since Ramadhan, a lot of lectures have been given between the parent-child relationships. Preachers and zaakireen have on occasion gone hoarse in admonishing of the attending audience the necessity of optimum parenting. What exists presently, goes the argument, is extreme parenting. Parents are either too lax such as to let the children loose and wandering or they are so strict as to muffle the very virtues that youth is all about. Neither group is justified but given the choices at the disposal of these parents, their actions are hard to write off as abnormal. Those parents who offer freedom and immense indisposition of wealth to their children are, said to be compensating for their own lost time of luxury and affluence. Unknowingly and in the garb of love and affection, they are shoving their offspring into an unknown and unpredictable alley. Those who are too strict are too conscious of the perils of external influence, and are justifying their actions in the name of protection. Two parallel groups, none centre. Either right or left.

For Muslims, there is another violent struggle that ages a long time. Many times preachers are accused of distancing themselves from the contemporary society and levelling constant blame to the so-called “West” and “Western influences”. The proponents of such anti-Western sentiments prove the validity of their actions by the fact that the said society, due to its non-conformity to Laws of nature, are themselves dipped in social chaos, and can therefore hardly be role models to other societies. The other group feels that such attitude is anti=progress. The contention is that die to the outstanding progress that this particular sphere has offered, affords them the nature role of socio-economic leadership. If anything, their role in the upliftment of society is a matter worth emulating.

Constant struggles. Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” states that “Interdependence is a higher value than independence”. In this fragment, lies the wisdom that should suffice to put an end to these traditional conflicts. If each group, minor and major were to understand that they are each indispensable, or that various actions are carried out due to some form of significant circumstance, then the world would be void of battle. This is a value higher than all others.

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A Higher Value

Mohamedarif Suleman – Nairobi, Kenya

A lot has recently been said about changing values of our society and so on. The eternal feud between members of the older generation and those of the current one is predictably cyclic. If anything, these differences, these so-called gaps of generations have been there since time immemorial. For at no one time have the expectations and perceptions of these two varying age groups been similar. A youth has to go grow into a higher age, perhaps outside what defines youth, to accept and practice certain hard core facts. In the same tone, one has to be a youth in order to possess that zeal, that unique enthusiasm that is necessary in , say, spurring a revolution. Both sides of the coin, you may say
Equally true are the conflicts arising between members of the opposite sex. Increasingly, both new and old couples are plunging into the inevitable conflict of individual roles in a home. The female sex, obviously wary of Islamic emphasis put on their rights are out to ask for equity, if not equality. Men, on the other hand remain strong disciples of the age-old teaching that the place of women is in the “kitchen” only. Again, a situation that has existed since marriage itself. The only difference is in the prevailing environment at the time. None of the sides are wrong, and yet neither is correct. A paradox?
Since Ramadhan, a lot of lectures have been given between the parent-child relationships. Preachers and zaakireen have on occasion gone hoarse in admonishing of the attending audience the necessity of optimum parenting. What exists presently, goes the argument, is extreme parenting. Parents are either too lax such as to let the children loose and wandering or they are so strict as to muffle the very virtues that youth is all about. Neither group is justified but given the choices at the disposal of these parents, their actions are hard to write off as abnormal. Those parents who offer freedom and immense indisposition of wealth to their children are, said to be compensating for their own lost time of luxury and affluence. Unknowingly and in the garb of love and affection, they are shoving their offspring into an unknown and unpredictable alley. Those who are too strict are too conscious of the perils of external influence, and are justifying their actions in the name of protection. Two parallel groups, none centre. Either right or left.
For Muslims, there is another violent struggle that ages a long time. Many times preachers are accused of distancing themselves from the contemporary society and levelling constant blame to the so-called “West” and “Western influences”. The proponents of such anti-Western sentiments prove the validity of their actions by the fact that the said society, due to its non-conformity to Laws of nature, are themselves dipped in social chaos, and can therefore hardly be role models to other societies. The other group feels that such attitude is anti=progress. The contention is that die to the outstanding progress that this particular sphere has offered, affords them the nature role of socio-economic leadership. If anything, their role in the upliftment of society is a matter worth emulating.
Constant struggles. Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” states that “Interdependence is a higher value than independence”. In this fragment, lies the wisdom that should suffice to put an end to these traditional conflicts. If each group, minor and major were to understand that they are each indispensable, or that various actions are carried out due to some form of significant circumstance, then the world would be void of battle. This is a value higher than all others.

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The Two R’s of Decision Making

 By Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi,Kenya)

Each one of us, has at one time or another, had to be at the center of certain decisions. Some of the decisions we made turned out well, others didn’t quite shape up the way we wanted them to. But, hey, who can blame us? After all, they were not simple decisions such as having two spoons of sugar or one in a coffee cup, They were very complex decisions. Decisions that would change the course of many individuals for the time to come.

Ask a father who has to decide about a marriage proposal for his daughter. Is this man going to keep my daughter happy? Is he the right man? Or you may talk to a university going student, for whom choosing between one course and another is horrendous in itself. A leader, too, has his worries. If he decides to take a certain step, he directly affects the lives of a multitude of followers or members, if he hesitates, there’s no saying what might happen. Life is a series of decision making processes. At each step, we are called upon to exercise the finer judgements to steer certain matters in a preferred direction. Most of the times we make trivial decisions, but the moments that account for those mammoth resolutions, cannot be sidelined at any cost. At the end of the day, one has to decide, lest he falls in the trap of the Greek mythical donkey, whose only choice was to feed out of a bundle of hay or a pail of water, but not both, For many days, it could not decide which one was more important to it’s survival. After the lapsed time, the donkey died…not out of hunger and thirst, but due to inanition, Indecision, if you may.

Any decision involves two R’s. Risk and Return. Sounds too financial? Believe it. This is true because all decision making involves the future. We can only make decisions about the future; no matter how much we may regret it, we cannot alter the past. Indeed, there is one thing certain about the future, which is that we cannot be sure what is going to happen! Sometimes, we have be able to predict with confidence that what actually occurs will be one of a limited range of possibilities. We may even feel able to ascribe statistical probabilities to possible outcomes of occurence, but we can never be completely certain of all the future. Risk is therefore an important factor in all decision-making and one that must be considered explicitly in all cases.

In all aspects of life, risk and return tend to be related. Intuitively, we expect returns to relate to risk. In investment, for example, investors require a minimum rate to induce them to invest at all but they require an increased rate of return, the addition of a risk premium, to compensate them from taking risk.

Life is toughest for the individual making the decision, although some people make it look like child’s play. For these, it is perhaps their resoluteness or their objectivity in thought that affords them the luxury of calm and composure, otherwise a lot of people simply lose their cool. For the on-looker,however, everything appears magnified, exaggerated. One fails to understand why X is taking so long to take a decision which, one evidently feels is so minute. These variations vary out of perception. The striker of a football team knows best why a ”golden chance” was in fact so difficult. To the commentator and other viewers, there couldn’t have been a better opportunity.

As a community, our leaders are called upon variously to make certain very sensitive decisions. Decisions with which we are mostly not satisfied. Workers in various social circles as well are victims of this insensitive and incomprehensible attitude by fellow community members. And if the very circumstance were to fall upon these outsiders, they would probably act similarly, if not worse off. So what is the moral of all of this. Each one of us is taking risks all the time, sometimes we lose, sometimes we gain, but it is the collective understanding that might just make the difference.

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