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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