Thursday, September 20, 2012
A Silver Lining to a Tumultuous Grey Cloud
(Photo from The Australian 18 Sept)
No one could say that the Sydney or the international riots - which occurred in response to what I have called ‘the wretched film’ - that this behavior does any credit to the Muslim community, is in keeping with the example of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., is instrumental in improving the overall welfare of the Muslim community or will actually do anything to discredit the film itself.
Of course the opposite is true – uncontrolled anger and violence, the killing of innocents was exactly the opposite of what the Prophet s.a.w. taught and demonstrated throughout his lifetime. Such behavior
can only slander his good name and discredit Muhammad’s life and example. Through the mayhem and destruction that has occurred, there will be many valuable projects in every country that have been initiated by Muslims and non-Muslims ‘in the West’ that will be set back years, not the least in our country Australia. Overall the Muslim community will once again be poorer because of such actions. And of course by screaming and shouting about this unworthy blip in the media sphere, the ‘wretched film’ has now been elevated to a huge global audience, compliments of the ignorant in our community.
But I like to look for the silver lining in this awfully dark cloud. And the reality is that we had this coming, should face the reality and start to address its causes.
As new migrants to a wealthy country there have been winners and losers. The winners are those who set their shoulders to the education wheel, worked hard, studied hard and rose through the ranks in their professional life. We have built mosques, schools and community centres and established a multi-million (or is it multi-billion dollar?) halal industry. But as Allah s.w.t. reminds us always, it is our intention that counts. The losers are those who saw themselves as victims, isolated themselves in monocultural communities and believed that they could not succeed in a non-Muslim country, even if they really made an effort.
Mosques are intended to be places of learning and prayer – not pulpits for small politicians to beat their breasts, shout and gain followers in competition with another mosque. Many of our community organizations were established on an ethnic basis that was not entirely democratic with power struggles regularly occurring. Meeting the needs of your own ethnic community is not something to be disparaged, so long as these needs are adequately addressed. This means that there must be a place for counseling, pastoral care and planning for the future – especially for the next generation. Young people need to be listened to and not left on the streets, becoming jail fodder in the process. Women, who generally tend to pick up the pieces of family life, need to be consulted and encouraged to bring their families into the mosque. Imams need to think of the future, learn about the culture and system of Australia, speak English, and address their khutbahs to the pressing issues of their congregation but also be forward planning and look to the future.
That is leadership. And it is this leadership that our community has been sorely lacking for some time, with some notable exceptions. What has been more common unfortunately, is for each leader to shout, beat his breast, and claim that his rival is kufar – a non-Muslim. Now by saying that, according to the Prophet s.a.w. one of them must be. I learnt this lesson the hard way many years ago. Furious at the behavior of a good friend, I called her ‘kufar’, but as she was indeed still a praying, struggling believer – albeit a misguided one at times, I had made myself ‘kufar’ in alleging that she was, and needed to pay penance according to the teachings of Islam by seeking forgiveness and restating my Shahadah in front of witnesses, thereby entering Islam again. I don’t know of too many of our leaders who have restated their Shahadah.
Many of our Imams do not speak English, so their scholarship is limited to an audience familiar with another culture, difficult to apply and truly understand in Aussie English, and generally out of touch with the actual issues being faced by Muslims here. As a result, Muslim leadership is finally being to called to account, something that they will inevitably face on Judgement Day without the opportunity to go back and do it better, which is one of the reasons that deeply believing Muslims are reluctant to take on the poisoned role of being a 'leader'.
In particular, our leadership has chosen to avoid the growing community of angry young men – across the globe. They have used them to fight on behalf of just wars that have then become bogged down in fratricidal squabbling over any spoils – as our David Hicks discovered. Commentators have questioned whether this concern with the larger Ummah is at odds with real citizenship. I believe that concern for others in the world is in fact a healthy disposition that ensures Muslim Australians will help check nationalist sentiment that is unproductive. Belief in the Ummah is a part of Islamic faith, although not unique to Islam, where the hurt of one community is felt by others – likened to pain in one limb being felt by the whole body. It has been a long time coming, but young people are disturbed by the suffering of their fellow believers. Unfortunately their concern has been encouraged through speeches and sermons highlighting the injustices and invasions of Muslim lands, building a victim mentality that does not come up with solutions, or recognize the real problems behind such events or the culpability of Muslim leaders in these very countries.
For example, many of us have supported the suffering inhabitants of Palestine for generations, and will continue to do so because of its historical and sacred legacy. But we overlook the fact that Palestinian land owners originally participated in this catastrophe by selling out to incoming Israelis, that the futile but egotistical response of shooting rockets into Israel gave justification to incursions, and that Palestinian movements against Israel were largely atheistic, not religious. Our leaders both Muslim and Australian have presented complex issues in simplified black and white versions to their different constituencies, breeding distrust on either side.
In other words, we as Muslims need to stop looking at everyone else as the cause of our problems and start looking to ourselves. Allah s.w.t. has told us that He does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves. As a Muslim community we need to remember that everything that happens to us was written before we were born, is a test, and nothing could have changed our fate. Our response though is what we are judged on, what brings us success or failure in this world and the next.
So, where to from here? Firstly, I believe that we need to reassure our young men that we are not selling them out. We need to discover safer ways of helping our community to both understand the complicity of the ongoing turmoil of our brothers overseas and have a voice in encouraging Australian policy that is beneficial to all Australians including Muslim citizens. Yes, the deaths in Iraq were avoidable, and yes, the ongoing toll of Australian lives in Afghanistan is now only face saving. But we cannot denigrate the sacrifice of those Australian young men who are doing their duty, or support those who kill women and children to get the invaders to leave. The military will only add to problems there, but Mahboba’s Promise is delivering solutions. We need a think tank of the Mohammed Tabaas, the Waleed Alys and Shakira Hussains all articulate Muslim voices expressing different but equally valid views. We need to reassure the angry young men that while we support the police in keeping our streets safe, we also encourage a full investigation of their behavior on Saturday, and not apologise for holding a protest. Bringing in the dogs where there were women and children was not wise.
This is just the beginning. Our Muslim schools that have focused on producing high scores for Yr 12 need to cater for the less capable students that they have routinely and selectively rejected. They need to bring in the most capable and critical of our Muslim academics and encourage critical analysis and ideas for self-improvement then give them scholarships to research and develop change. We need to look at systems of governance where greater accountability is held of our leading Imams, as well as greater authority. We need to continue to unite as a community despite our differences, and weed out any destructive elements fairly and systematically. The credentials of our aspiring leadership needs to be checked with opportunities for ongoing training in pastoral care, Western civilization and educational practice, taking the example of the early Muslims who always studied carefully the cultures and civilisations that they engaged with, improving not simply destroying them.
Today in the Australian, David Arronovitch called the Muslim community adolescent. He’s right. It resembles today more the rabble of tribes that engaged in continual retributional wars against each other before Muhammad united and disciplined them. We need a little self discipline. We need to choose leaders who are reluctant to lead because they are not pursuing an agenda and know that they will be held accountable. Leaders who will say what needs to be said to their followers, not what will make the community blame someone else. Leaders with foresight who set a plan for 10, 15, 20 years ahead and start to build the foundations of a long term plan – developing the character of the community, not its façade. Unlike our brothers overseas who are steadily bombing their cultural legacy, we are still building fancy walls but do not yet have enough content inside. The Prophet s.a.w. began with a dirt floor and a palm leaf roof, but the content of his structure was full of integrity, purpose, discipline, faith, foresight, humility, personal strength and power direct from the Creator. In one lifetime Muhammad s.a.w. took his community from the adolescent rabble that we have reverted to, into a towering, flowering civilization that overcame the great Persian, Roman and Byzantine empires at that time. That is the adulthood that we need to rise to again.