By Mohamedarif M Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)
The most tragic element that surrounds the human species today – in behaviour and in creed is what could be termed as empty idealism. The want to be someone, one is not. Or more relevantly, the paying of lip service to morals, lessons and ideals that are in fact quite distant from the person in question.
“Hu taari jagaaye hot to…”, a famous antagonistic statement is perhaps a typical example of someone who will never be in any situation which would require him to respond in a like manner that he may now be suggesting to another. And whereas the universe is filled with elements that continuously proclaim what they do not stand for, the most impacting forum arises when one speaks of leaders. Now, here we must always clarify that leaders are defined as leaders. Nothing less, nothing more. Simply talking about formal organisational leaders that are errant in behaviour is not all that a great idea to talk about. Leadership at all levels, including self-leadership is best faulted whenever we attempt to introspect and investigate this widely discarded phenomenon.
A father telling his son not to smoke “like I do” because of the way it “will harm you” is not preaching what one practices. Much farther than that, the obvious and intelligent response of the son would be that you had all the fun and are now stopping me, huh? Neither does the father have the courage to tread the line that he is plotting for his son, nor will the son ever be persuaded to do so.
At an extended family level, one may preach family unity from a distant land, whereas he or she is “shielded” from any responsibility. The other members may unequivocally establish that it is due to the non-residence of such an individual or his brief “special appearances” that make him so vociferous about his claims. The case, of familiarity breeding contempt is brought into active application almost instantaneously.
Let us move on to community leadership. And in our case, a Muslim leader who tells his subjects to adopt Lifestyle A while he tends towards lifestyle A + x, where x represents vanity, extravagance and luxury, is he ever going to be an effective leader? Not if one were to believe the story of Imam Ali (AS) being approached by the mother for his son’s date eating habits. Here is a classical example of how idealism, when practice renders superior results.
Turning to national and international politics, the word “help” means conditional aid, where “relief work” means business opportunities, little can be done for the have nots. Picture this: how can an employee of say a global agency such as the UN, for example, couched in his expensive suite or even brand new car, with a remarkable hefty bank balance, ever understand the misery of a street-walking crippled beggar? A politician in any country, whose salary is perhaps six times that of the common average man, is in the least bit position to circumvent the problems that plague his nation. All these individuals get royal treatment wherever they go, for them hardship and difficulties have entirely different meanings. This is one reason the world’s poverty crisis will never be sorted out because the world’s leaders want to help without sticking their own necks out “to save the world”, borrowing a common jingle used in emotionally driving the populace. When the HIV/AIDS problem is eroding lives and families, the half hearted attempt by leaders to please the masses is only well-balanced with companies that manufacture protection methods so that the economy keeps running. Cigarette and Tobacco have taken years to prohibit, but a worse element, alcohol is not even talked about.
Imam Ali (AS)’ advise to his governors was to “lie low” when the general population was in suffering. He asked them to avoid their display of luxury and pomp. Muslim leaders seldom use this as an example to emulate. For us, it is rather the other way. And how quick we are to then turn to the other Imams who lived luxurious lives under monarchs to rationalise our own deed. Fair and well. This is all empty idealism. Bragging about “haq” is not sufficient, one has to struggle for it. But then even this word has been taken away by external forces as meaning “Holy War”!
Idealism is one of the greatest forces in the world. It makes seeming impossibilities possible and succeeds where prudence fails, but unless the idealist is brave and has the courage to face the truth, his idealism creates nothing…nothing at all.