What of the Visionaries and Thinkers?

Mohamedarif Suleman – Nairobi, Kenya

Here comes the 21st century, and with it arrives further bombardment of education and the need to secure an education for each child. Only now, unlike the 80s and 90s, here is more talk about Information Technology. In the midst of all of this, what has the Khoja Shia Ithnasheri envisioned for himself?

It is true to say that some things will never change. For instance, with the advent of an IT age, we will not prefer being fitted to batteries and accumulators in lieau of the life-giving habit of feeding (a la pilau and biryani!). Similarly, IT has come only to assist us in furthering the levels to which humankind can reach. The oncoming era is no different in terms of euphoria and excitement than the industrial revolution of the 19th century.

In the same token, we must admit that there are some things that should not change. For instance, respect for elders, rights of minors and orphans, etc. all these that we believe belong to all ages regardless. What will change, in the final analysis is the pace of our lives. And this is what we are concwerned about (just as doctors will be concerned about increased cases of constipation and other excretory troubles as a result of faster fast foods!). What do we as a community feel touched by at the dawn of this all-important centenarian twist?

Alhamdulillah, in the last five or so years, East African Jamaats can confidently say that there has been a significant rise in the number of boys and girls going for higher education. At the grassroots level, all major Jamaats now have their own schools and academies, where the striving for excellence continues. This could not have come at a more opportune moment as these national economies merge into the international scenario where true marker forces are now into direct play. Indirectly, what this means is that, we no longer need to produce O ’Level, dropouts to run family-bred businesses, because the IT revolution has created newer entry levels for new entrepreneurs.

But exporting our blood fortune – our children to Western counties or to foreign lands should not be the goal. It should rather be the means to a greater goal. After all, the community may not be deeply interested in fluently speaking American products because there would be no benefit out of such individuals. The community and as such the parents would rather invest in youths who will bring substantial benefit to the community at large.

Unfortunately, perhaps out of lack of foresight or sheer ill of fortune and circumstance, when business was boom in East Africa, no visionary came forth and presented a plan for the sustainability of education, or for shelter for that matter. Twenty years ago, when the first computers started trickling in with those mega 5.25” floppies, the community was found giving out loans to students, as it was found yearning for donations. And two decades later, when the world is at the threshold of an IT revolution, the same sight is still visible. There is only one change. Today, the resources are not enough to meet the demand.

Where are the visionaries of this community? Or are there any? And could this be one reason why the newer generation finds this institution to be incompatible? An answer is ended fast, and faster is the need to redress the situation. As a community, we should stand up in respect for all our leaders because we are what we are today because of their selflessness. But we need more. We need direction. We need visionaries. We need thinkers.

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The Lingual Bomb

Mohamedarif Suleman

(Nairobi, Kenya)


The subject on whether Majlises should be recited in English or Urdu was well participated. Netizen (Citizens on the net, you may say!) brothers and sisters debated and deliberated on this very issue for at least a month under the newly-founded E-Discussion Groups of Nairobi Jamaat’s Youth Stairs Sun Committee.

Arguments, before and against, we’re compiled and assimilated for the possible implementation by relevant sub committees, but the interesting part was how the subject was discussed and what directions it finally assumed.

The proponents of English had one basic argument that bordered around communication as a medium for comprehension. It was aptly argued that if the purpose of a Majlis was to reach out to the community youth then it was important that the language of their understanding was used. Equally true is the converse, whereby it could have been stated that if the language used by Zakireen is not understood by the youths, then what was the purpose of the whole exercise. A lot of praise was also shown towards brethren Jamaats in North America and Europe for the manner in which youths had integrated into society’s mainstream.

But when all was said and done, argued the proponents of Urdu, the questions turned back to culture and tradition. Language, it is commonly known as an important part of culture. And giving up language was tantamount to giving up on culture. It was appropriately cautioned that while our brothers, the Hindu community in the UK for example, was actually going back to their own language, we were not learning from their experience. The paradox was thus complete.

On the positive side, there were volunteers who came up and offered to arrange Urdu classes for the benefit of those who don’t understand. It may be very clear by now that, like always, the cookie had to crumble. Those who want English are prepared to give up their culture (although they dispute the fact that language has any connotation to culture (sociologists please explain), and on the other hand those proposing Urdu as a medium are surprisingly not proposing Gujrati or Kuttchi (which is our language).So, what does it all sum up to? Some even argued that since language was a function of culture, adopting English would invite this foreign and mostly abhorrent culture to be fed into our society (not that we are not already experiencing this culture shock). It is tempting to ask what is behind this new drive to a new language. We have spoken English since time immemorial. But recently (Blame in on TV and the Internet), this has acquired mind blowing dimensions. As young parents, buoyed by the American portrayal of a fine progressive lot (which by the way is a product of their lingual finesse), and encouraged by schools to communicate in English for the betterment of the child, fall into this trap, or a quagmire. Little do they realize that when they do reach adolescent age, they will also be required to understand other languages. Why that room is blocked altogether in favour of one language will remain a mystery to all of us.

And yes, it may be said that communication is incomplete if an incoherent medium is used, but who made Urdu incomprehensible? Since when? And in any case, why should the sudden change in language lead to such horrendous implications? In the end, we just might have to continue using the middle path of time-sharing that has proven to be so popular recently. It may be more prudent for us to let nature take its course, while attending to the most basic questions of the role of parents and the preservation of culture.

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Grappling Anew With an Old Problem

Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

You got that right! Youths – a class of social members who have remained paradoxically elusive for the older generation of all times. The youths want freedom – of speech, of action, of expression; the elders demand involvement – of responsible action, of conformity to set roles, and of their physical and mental energies in the forward stride of the community. An impasse.

The elders prefer to call them the leaders of tomorrow, but the youths know better and so they don’t understand why they cannot lea today, afterall education, science and fluency of speech is on their side. The youths accuse the elders of not letting go of past ritual practice, but the leaders are wiser, and thus they regard this train of thought as immature and devoid of religious knowledge. Another Deadlock.

The community jumps at the thought of rejuvenating the youth by organizing lectures and discussions, and now workshops to repossess the straying ‘’cubs’’, but the youth feels that the lion will remain king of the jungle and so this is only meant to further influence them in accepting what they consider their imposed ideas. A tie.

So where do we go? Should the community give up on its most fundamental asset, and let the youth adopt their own lifestyle? Or should the youth see reason beyond the veil of their so-called wisdom? The answer does not lie in any of the polar suggestions. What we now need is a happy medium.

Firstly, both parties should eliminate this finger pointing and agree to sit down and deliberate on this burning issue. Leaders should for once show seriousness in keeping their word. One secret of doing this is by not taking the lot for granted, this is one attribute that the youth cannot live with. He/she needs importance – not preference, but deserved regard to what he/she thinks or feels. We have heard many disgruntled individuals, some of whom have actually crossed the youth age group, of how they were maligned, mistreated or disregarded. The sons and daughters of these individuals cannot be expected to fall in love prima facie (at first sight) with the institution. Their extremist behavior and generalized opinionating is bound to emerge. Therefore, the leaders, who by no means are infallible, should definitely strive to be honourable. Understanding what the youths want may be the key to unlocking this mysterious dilemma.

On the other hand, the youths have to be prepared to accept opinion. The attitude, some times is that of a know-all, and this is bound to cause conflict. For it is difficult for the adult member to comprehend how “the tail can lead the head”. Yet at times the elders go out of the way and congratulate the positively aggressive behavior of the youth. But eventually, they are bound to hurt.

One feels compelled to borrow some ideas from our brothers in the West who are trying to develop programs that would curb any further discords. A book published some years back in Canada has touched on the subject rather immaculately. “A Vision for Youths and Proposed Action Programs for it’s Realization” is really a follow up to an earlier seminar that discussed the Youth Dimension. It talks about the psychological and educational development of “young persons” (note the change in lingo), the improvements to traditional institutions (Majlis and Madrasah) to help better cater to the needs of the youths, and so on. This is just one example, there could be lots of other opportunities which we may have overlooked.

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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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