Mohamedarif M Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
The word character comes from the Greek, meaning “to make a mark.” Our character is our mark on the world. How does it matter or change things if you and I have good good character? As the famous learning methodology goes, in order to appreciate one goodness, one must be exposed to its bad side. Like, appreciating light truly only in darkness, knowing the sufferings of the less fortunate people only sinks in when not having the finer things in life affect us too, and so on. The presence of disorder in any society, too, is a useful barometer in understanding the significance of organisation.
At the risk of sounding redundant over some of my past writings, I nevertheless would like to recount the teachings of the Holy Prophet (SAW), who demonstrated a character of steel in the face of abject adversity as a means of his most fundamental teaching of tolerance, perseverance and dedication to a divine goal. In the scheme of things, we may have lost a lot of the realism instilled by him as a result of atricious and at times atrocious life patterns, attitudes and indeed character, or the lack of. He taught us honesty, sincerity, tolerance, trustworthiness and commitment to a cause, traits that are somehow today meshed in a confusing potpourri of principles, dogmas and tenets, all of which are subject to infinitely multiple interpretations.
Novelist, journalist, and humorist Oren Arnold (1900) is quote to have remarked “”Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.” None of these good traits are new to a Muslim although this makes for good reminder too. In other words, as life and the form we exist in today gets continuously adulterated with new principles and ideologies, each one rationalising his own, has made religion the proverbial opium that it was not meant to be.
Islam was meant to bring about peace and tranquility to the world through a messenger who was named as a mercy to the world, and the Holy glorious book that stands to date as a treasure of scientific and social codes and secrets, but antagonising this statement of fact is the intense war waged by Muslims on others, by the irregular style of leadership and social backwardness under Muslim regimes in some parts. And while Muslims play truant with the name of their religion, the non Muslims, unguided by any comparable system and code of life as intensely as Islam, continue to wreak havoc under one pretext or another.
I recently met a young Sunni Pakistani traveller at an airport, and in the aftermath of the discussion that ensued, where he lashed at his country’s self centric and ignorant style of leadership, he brought up something very interesting that controversially touched on the Shia faith. In basing his argument about how Muslims drag religion into everything else, and in showing how he stood apart, he eloquently (albeit in a deplorable language of swear words) defined how Imam Khomeini stood for progress and self determination for the Muslims. He then cascaded into the subject of how loyal he was to Shia beliefs that touched his heart despite being a Sunni. He said he had immense “belief an conviction” in Hazrat Abbas (AS) so much so that each time he buys a new thing, he takes it to “touch” the replica of his Shrine at one of our centres where the aalim also encourages him to pray to Hazrat Abbas (AS) to protect his new acquisitions. He then recounted how when he recently bought a new car which he obviously could not touch and rub against the zareeh, he had to park in front of the mehfil and pray for it. The aalim prescribed him a mini “panjaa” to hang over his rear view mirror. As his voice got beaten only by the loud flight announcements (in this case cancellation announcements!), it occurred to me how the face of Islam had changed beyond belief. In fact, for a moment I felt he was talking about another sect of Islam, but then I realised it was indeed the same one but whose form had been altered. Surely, the Holy Prophet’s Islam was not about idolising personalities. But then this is a result of our ignorant practices where we insist on doing things that are actually dear to our Indo-Pak roots but little related to the actual Islam, an then although we know for sure that we are not idolising, an onlooker fails to understand that. Then in order not to be marginalised by a majority pagan class, we continue with those practices that make us closer to them as a means to complete our social identity. On the character game, I wondered if quoting the late Khomeini’s beautiful words with such swear words ever had a positive meaning for anyone else.
Incidentally, I then met a wealthy Bohora friend (and as is understandable the top notch are usually affiliated to the spiritual leadership), he was talking to me about their “Aqaa Maula’s” recent visit to Mombasa. He was narrating to me how ill he was taken and that they were not able to really celebrate his birthday, which was 40 days from Mila un Nabi. Anyhow, the central idea he was trying to promote was how charismatic the leader was so much so that when a group of Hindus sharing their beliefs were allowed to a viewing and discussion, they said they had never been so overwhelmed by the presence of such a radiant personality. Hmmm, personality again.
In the East African coast, Muslim youths are an aggressive lot, who roam the streets, emulating their non Muslim counterparts with loud thundering rock music, roaring engines, and yes loud voices. Have we the Muslims, in our growing numbers, made the world any better compared to our silent minority who are trying to quietly follow the right path? Are we not a social nuisance who do not stand a chance in a million to persuade sound minded individuals about the goodness of Islam? What are we? Have we really retained the religion that the Holy Prophet (SAW) brought to us, or are we nothing more than a defiant lot, still confused about our own practices, still fighting and combating old versus new theories?
Many questions, perhaps many answers too, but I have none to assure me things are as rosy as we tend to make them out to be. I may sound cynical, and perhaps am, but we have to revisit the message once again to match our own credentials with what was brought to us.