I had a long, long conversation a couple of days back. It seemed to go on – oh, forever, and before you knew it, the same friends had passed by us about six times, probably wondering why the heck I was taking so long to make a point. My knees were just about ready to buckle under the pressure for standing as long as we did, and alhamdulillah, when we decided to sit down for a finish, my thoughts came to me in a clearer, more logical manner.
Surprisingly enough, that long conversation that centred on politics, activism and basically, principles, was scattered with few personal details which helped explain ourselves to each other. Still, it was surprising how just talking – with raised voice, at certain points – helped me better understand the person I am. To the person I talked to: I am sorry, but it seems I do most of my thinking after I say the first thing that comes to mind. Thus revision is rather important in regards to me.
I have learnt that:
I do not believe in passing cool judgement (for the matters that truly count) without considering all sides at once. Life is never monochromatic, but the greys are the hardest to swim through. And in matters other than the obvious, I do not favour a particular solution being better than all others, but instead that we can all hold to what we believe is the best way. We were made different, and absolute insistence that one particular path is wrong is, well, wrong.
I do not believe in passivity or ignorance. I do believe that the greater danger lies in ignorance, for the person who acts and yet does not understand is harmful to all those around him, but to resign oneself to passivity while knowledge and conscience resides within seems mere stupidity, to me. I believe in actions, though they may not always speak more loudly than words. Because when things are being done, change is being made.
I believe that the here and now holds the future for me. True, extrapolation of the self does not guarantee anything, but I believe in working towards the future with set principles in heart and sheer will in hand. What I work for now will set my pace for the years to come. And if doing so means retaining ideals, I do not see the harm in them. For nothing was ever achieved that did not require dreams and ideals.
I believe that reality is what you make of it. I do not condone shutting one eye to the world around you, but merely to understand that reality is a flexible creation – what is now may not be tomorrow. I believe that everyone plays a hand at shaping reality, and that not realizing that role is a great loss to humankind.
I believe that what I believe may be different from what you believe (‘you’ not meaning a particular person, of course). I believe that the road may even take us to divergent paths. But I do sincerely hope that wherever we tread, we may come across each other, for in the end, the Destination is but One.
*Note: Sorry if it seems a little self-absorbed. I just feel like some things have to be clarified.
Last Saturday, after another wonderful Clayton slumber party with our habeebs, we found ourselves catching a train back to the city. The weather was wet and wonderful, if one weren’t stuck outdoors with no apparent shade and semi-formal wear to boot. As it were, our shoes were on the sloshy side by the time we arrived at the Union Theatre at the University of Melbourne, just in time for the start of the A2I (Aspire 2 Inspire) Youth Conference, the preceding event for the Young Australian-Muslim of the Year (YAMY) Awards 2007.
After the AAIC’s workshop for young muslimah, Aisha and I had met up with Monique Toohey and Tasneem Chopra, where Aisha briefed them about the social problems afflicting the predominantly Muslim Malaysian youth and asked suggestions about the little steps that can be taken to counter such behaviour. After going through the predictable and oft-unsuccessful possibilities (parents, elders, counselling, awareness campaigns – been there, got the souvenir), she suggested organizing an event that would appeal to the youth – something that would entertain and educate them simultaneously, while providing inspiring and do-able examples for them to emulate; something that would make being a true-blue Muslim appeal to them. She asked us whether we have ever attended the YAMYs.
So Saturday afternoon, we trudged our way through the autumn shower and into the darkened, segregated Union Theatre, where everyone (well, mostly the girls) were dressed up to the nines. It looked like there was going to be a huge, dizzying party but without the booze and free mixing.
The itinerary was interesting, and in truth, it was most definitely a youth event; something with the manner of a prolonged party, but with inspiring talks by various youth leaders, all garnered around a not-too-subtle theme of encouraging youth participation in the community. In between, there were giveaways and the traditional chatter of the co-hosts, Saara and Nazeem, both of whom are widely known in the Melbourne Muslim youth circle.
The official opening of the event was Qur’anic recitation, and the chosen verses were, from what little I understood, relevant to the night’s theme of youth activism, so it was disappointing that there was no translation provided. It could’ve sobered up the audience a little, which started antsy and continued to progress so throughout.
The fantastic parody of The Simpsons opening sequence, The Ahmeds, set the pace for the self-deprecating humour presented through the A2I, also apparent in the format of the panel judging the various speakers, mocking the Australian Idol trio.
The first speaker was Assad Ansari, ICV Vice-President, talkshow host and hotshot lawyer, who touched on the importance of involvement in the community, drawing example from the apartheid and the Australian movement against it. Next was Dounia Lahouile, part of the national taekwondo team and hijabi, who talked about her experience representing her country and her motivation for accepting the bruises and fractured bones as part of her everyday.
There was a play set up by the YAMY team and several volunteers after the Asr break, ‘The Day in the Life of a Young Muslim Male’. It was funny enough, while highlighting the cultural and generational breakdowns, as well as the typical temptations faced by young Muslims, but what could’ve been a promising ending ended up as a feeble punch line, which took a while to sink in anyway. What could’ve made a lingering impact became a flitting interest instead, which is a shame, because the play was on the right track, what with the scene with the ‘thug brothas’ and all.
There was a surprise video recording of an interview with the famous Essendon FC player, Bachar Houli, who garnered the loudest whistles and applause (again, mostly by girls) and my ardent respect for all that he’s done in the name of the Australian fair-go. What with the current sledging controversy and sexual discrimination claims within the league, it’s heartening to learn of a man who will go to great lengths to pray five times a day and demand his halal food, and yet admit to it modestly.
The youngest speaker and winner of the UNHCR Oration Award, Medina Hajdarevic from Werribee Islamic College was original and concise on her belief in the human potential to do good by others, merely by tapping into themselves. Sister Saara Sabbagh, community youth worker and quite easily the best speaker of the night, brought talk back to the Heavens and the theme full circle as explained the sufi concepts of closing the bridge with Allah via himmah and khidmah, or aspiring and rendering service, respectively.
At the end of the event (due to travel exhaustion, Nu and I gave up on the awards part of the evening), I could see the main purpose and intention behind the YAMYs. Much like its more traditional counterparts, it focuses on getting the grassroots back to its Islamic identity, by making it cool to be Muslim. Unlike its traditional counterparts, it takes the contemporary approach, taking things slow and easy and being highly careful not to impose. Good messages are stressed frequently throughout (the idea is, after all, for good wholesome entertainment and simultaneous education), but at times the marketing strategy was a little obvious, and mostly, there was a sense of compromise. But it did good enough, considering its wide target audience and approach to the more assimilated Muslim youth – from the proudly practising to the hiding non-practitioners. It could have been better organized and the jokes could have been less corny, but maybe it’s just me.
The practicality of applying something like this in
That said, it needs to be stressed that the Malaysian reality and the Australian situation are similar, yet starkly different. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in
And for another, there has yet to be a nasyeed-only rap group to emerge from urban
The rain poured hard and true.
She knew that the rain had its passengers – angels, who went back to the Heavens, bringing with them wishes and prayers, hopes and dreams. Maybe that was why she had always loved the rain. It was her favourite perfume, this scent of fresh promises and new adventures. It was as if each torrent opened up another page in a different life. Like everything had been fixed and washed away in little streams of aftermath. Like the way God brought the flowers and the grass and the trees back to life with the drizzle.
As was the case, she welcomed rain. She had needed many fixer-uppers in her life; many washes to get the dirt all clean. And with each downpour, she felt like the rest of the world was born anew. She felt like she could hope again, rebuild again, live again.
It’s as if the rain tells her each time, with a little whisper, that there is nothing she cannot do.
Smiling to herself, she remembered lonely rains that she spent with the piano in the alcove of her home, when no one else was there. She would revel in the disguise of rainfall, knowing that her mistakes on the keys would be saved from all but her, but in the spirit of the moment, she wouldn’t care at all. The piano keys were hard on her fingers, and in them, she lay out her one-sided tales of heartbreak and adolescent pain, wondering why God had made her the way He did. She had reckoned that she must have been special, to warrant so much disappointment in her being. She had skimmed through her feelings and her thoughts and theories as her fingers padded the wooden keys, her eyes focusing on the wet, pallid grey of the world outside. Smiling a special one, she would not feel so alone anymore.
There were many times when she would deliberately forget her umbrella on a darkened day, and find herself having to walk through the rain. It was never long enough to appease her hunger of a proper shower, but it gave her a sense of syukr – maybe for being able to shiver in the cold and tilt her head up to the pouring sky. Not that she had anything against a clear-blue sky with its smattering of clouds, or the sunshine that pours onto the earth and warms her back. Its just that rain and wetness and dull skies made her feel lonely and also comfortable. Maybe it was the knowledge that it would always be temporary; that it never lasted long.
Rainy days were an excuse to curl up under warm blankets with a good book in hand. It gave her a chance to slow down and reflect – something she had wanted to do for days, but never found the time for. The stunted act of an autumn shower made time go still and the rest of the world cease from haste.
She could feel the folds of her hijab flopping to one side with the weight of the damp, but she marked it as fate that she should be stuck out here, in the middle of nowhere, without an umbrella or some form of shade in view. Because the rain would wash her troubles away, if only for a while.
And the angels would bring the blessings of
She heaves a deep sigh.
The diaphragm shifts forwards and up; the lungs expand; fresh air gushes through the trachea and into the lungs, expanded at ready; oxygen makes its way, weaving through capillaries and into the veins and arteries, assimilating with the rushing blood; it weaves out everywhere, spread all over the body. The heart beats a single motion in time.
But that is not the amazing part.
What is amazing is how when she does so, all the worries – all the tests, assignments, projects, frustration, responsibility and trust weighed on her single person – all of it is shoved behind in a single breath, as a single word pushes ahead to the front of her mind, enrapturing her entire being:
Last week marked the 4th anniversary of the occupation of the American military in
Welcome to being a Muslim in the 21st century.
Last Easter weekend’s 1st Annual Australian Islamic Conference (AAIC), organized by Mercy Mission, highlighted this sad situation clearly and succinctly. It triggered a media flurry, with journalists flitting in and out of the conference, its international speakers being interviewed (of particular interest was British journalist or as the Herald-Sun would call her, ‘firebrand’ Yvonne Ridley) and unjust accusations falling in like the long-missed rain.
The speakers featured were diverse, each representing their own area of expertise, but all carrying well-balanced views of the international community and each able to present Islam without sounding defensive (except for maybe sister Ridley, but she had valid excuse to launch a verbal defence anyway). There were Mesheikh Shabir Ally and Jamal Badawi (no relation to a particular political figure) from Canada, Sheikh Waleed Basyouni the PhD Oxford scholar living in Houston, Texas, Sheikh Tawfique Chowdury from Melbourne’s Mercy Mission and al-Kauthar Institute, and sister Yvonne Ridley from Great Britain.
There was an intense and almost uncomfortable focus on the conference by the Australian media, especially when two of the planned speakers, Bilal Abu Ameenah Phillips and Sheikh Jaafar Idris were denied visas into the country. However, the event went on smoothly and excellently well, with only some apparent distress expressed by the organizers on the attendees’ seeming inability to be punctual. And right, misquotations of sr. Ridley by the press, The Herald-Sun being the party of note (and of much verbal assault by the person in question).
If nothing else, the conference highlighted the severe scrutiny being placed on Muslims of the 21st century, where electron microscopes would serve as the proper analogy. We are being monitored unscrupulously, and with a biased mindset in check. As Waleed Aly observed at the Red Cross’s forum on ‘International Humanitarian Law and the Muslim World’, the term ‘Muslim’ itself brings to the mind of the ignorant public majority an image of a political entity, rather than mere individuals trying to get along with everyday life.
All of a sudden, the opinion of one particular Muslim becomes the staunch and unfailing view of all. The popular notion seems to be that there is no such thing as individuality in Islam, and that adhering to Allah’s Divine Laws equates becoming part of an unthinkingly loyal club of zombies, which is most definitely not the case, as further inspection would prove. Although difficult to comprehend at first, the local media’s obsession over Sheikh al-Hilaly’s media faux pas makes some sense – they seriously view his position as ‘mufti’, as that of a leader over Australian (and New Zealand, let’s not forget) Muslims and thus, that his thoughts directly reflect those of other Muslims. The truth of the matter remains, that he is merely a form of community leader for the Lakemba district of Sydney, and his words – though they may undeniably affect the mindsets of some people – hold no direct consequence to the continental Muslim population.
There have been some dire miscommunication on both sides of the conflict, but it has also highlighted the fact that in today’s world, individual Muslim opinions have gained more focus and importance to the non-Muslim majority as represented by the media. A single Muslim is capable of garnering more political furore over his/her personal political views than an entire African nation steeped in humanitarian conflict is able to. In light of recent news headlines, one wonders: if a non-Muslim were to proclaim support for
Let us be honest with ourselves and underline the all-too-obvious: there is a bout of Islamophobia in the world, and the media perpetrates it with all too much eagerness. One thing the speakers at the conference and in particular, the ever-diplomatic Sheikh Jamal Badawi stressed upon, was that this blatant ignorance and stereotyping has to stop, and this change will only begin when Muslims start to become proactive, and counter such ignorance by taking it upon themselves to play a part in the community at large. We take the beatings everyday, but this increasing resistance to such attacks has made us dismissive and unaccounted for. We read and hear about ourselves in the media every single day, but allow such ignorance to pass by us unchecked. The worst of all is when we choose specific agendas and then react in such a manner that simply reiterates the stereotype, such as happened worldwide during the
Thus, if we cry out victim, we must check ourselves and where need be, share the blame.
Admittedly, doing da’wah in a secular world is not easy, mostly because the definition of religion used in most lands is not that of Islam’s dynamic meaning. As brother Mohamed Acharki noted in his article for UMIS’s Al-Qalam (April 2006), ‘Connotations of Religion’, we must reconsider the very different meanings that the word ‘religion’ entails for these two worlds on either spectrum. We need to look back on history and see where the Western image of religion originated, and where the secular mindset was derived from. We must review the meaning of Islam as a religion, and strive to clear the misunderstandings by being staunchly politically correct, so as to better convey the message of Allah’s Deen as we are meant to.
There is now an urgent need for knowledge and for learning the means of getting it across, especially in today’s world, where prejudice and ignorance have become joint lawmakers. Muslims need to wake up from the self-destructive cocoon we’ve been building around ourselves. We have to realize that change has arrived, and it’s caught us by surprise. To repeat the same mistake would only prove that we have failed to see the warning signs as they escalated all around us at alarming levels – war, poverty, genocide, political anarchy. We have to quit apologizing and start setting the record straight – that we are what we are, and that the few strays do not denote the entire ummah.
One conclusion surmised from the three-day convention was that there needs to be reaching out from both sides of the world; we have to seek and understand the ‘other’ so that we can let ourselves be heard clearly and justly. Even if there is no eminent ‘clash of civilizations’, there is an urgent need for dialogue and proactive action, if we are to safeguard peace and uphold justice for the generations to come. If history can teach us nothing else, it is that complacency is one of the most dangerous sedatives of civilization.
Rasa semacam tidak larat
Rasa semacam tidak sanggup
Rasa semacam tidak mampu
Di luar sana terlalu sejuk beku
Untuk diredah semua
Untuk diubah molek
Katil ini keras
Dan aku sudah tidak mampu
Untuk terbaring di sini
Menunggu gong yang datang
Menerkam dan mengejut
Dari lena yang terlampau lama.
Dan di saat rindu itu hadir
Di mana tangis itu sayu
Di mana hati itu remuk
Memikirkan rindu yang belum bertemu
Hampir tidak mampu lelah sepertinya
Tetapi dirintih juga
Ada bunga yang dititipkan kasih
Bagaikan peringatan yang tersendiri
Bahawa indah itu sebentar
Yang sakit itu sementara
Yang kekal tetap menanti
Sudah termeterai dalam mimpi
Maka yang fana
An acquaintance said to me the other night, “Wither Muslims?” When I beckoned further explanation, he replied and I quote him, “All talk no action.” I thought it an ironic phrase coming from him, but other than that, I refrain from further comment. Admittedly, that choice twist on Shakespeare, I believe, made my brain move at a furious pace, and I duly credit him for the choice of my topic.
Wither Muslims, indeed? Have we all hidden behind the mirage of anonymity of blogs set up to spread the word? Have we all sought refuge in our scholarly items and have found no other way out? Have we submerged ourselves in the familiar enclosure of culture and refuse to crawl back out?
As Muslims, we are oft-reminded (and in turn, remind others) of how we live to serve only one purpose, which is to worship the Almighty Lord, and that in so doing, we strive to do all that is deemed worthy of acceptance of God.
In other words, we have been set forth to do good.
Now, there seems to be a misconception amongst this particular generation of Muslims, where we tend to contain shallow perspectives of how this good is to be perpetrated into the world. The distinct lines between blatant selfishness and general goodwill have somehow been blurred by the wonder that is the human mind. Where our purpose in life is to do good by all, we find it sufficient to do good by ourselves and appease our own conscience.
Which leads me to the question: Are Muslims allowed to choose their battles? To pick among a lot and select the most convenient to champion? To pay attention to those that interest Muslims alone, and to blatantly close an eye to all others?
Shame on me, and shame on you.
The word Muslim itself is an adjective, which means ‘one who submits to God’. And as for acts of submission, God did not tell us to only pay attention to the matters that concern us most, but to do good by all. And the definition of ‘all’, the last time I checked, meant something in its entirety. So when we talk about all of mankind, we really should mean it.
As bearers of God’s deen, it surprises me at times, how ignorant we are by choice. Granted, we have been persecuted and demoralized beyond belief in the past century alone, but it is no excuse for the level to which we have secluded our concerns – into and unto ourselves is where the world ends. Selfishness was never part of Islam, and should not be within the Muslim ummah.
Therefore it pains me to see people rant on and on about
It is this placidity and acceptance to mediocrity that helps shoot my blood pressure past the safe level. Because I’ve come to learn that Muslims should not succumb to mediocrity. We should not choose our battles, or limit our concerns, because humankind is our concern.
This reluctance to act has prompted many of our contemporary scholars to remind us oft and again of the need for Muslims to play a part in the community, before they dare speak of the building of an ummah, much less an actual caliphate. They keep reminding over and again, on every platform they can reach, that change begins from the individual – that we have to stop being selfish, and to go out there to give more, and without thinking. That in everything we do, we should stop and consider about how our next action can be done to benefit other than ourselves.
In short, they are advising us to quit being hypocrites and to begin walking the walk. Because we are Muslims, and the only limit for a Muslim is perfection as depicted in the Beloved, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), which while may never be attained anyone else, should not remain a lofty dream, but to be retained as a standard model for us all – of modesty amidst greatness, of humanity amidst apathy, of courage amidst oppression, and of the negligence of impossibilities in doing what is right and true. He taught us to always reach for higher than what we knew, but to never hold the world in our hands. He was never selective in doing good, nor did he ignore one aspect of life in committing to the other. The Prophet never encouraged selfishness, not even in the most dire of states.
I feel that on the blessed day of his birth, we should at least pause from picking at the flaws of others and to peek a look at our own nafs, and re-evaluate our position and our intention in working and living as we do. There is nothing wrong in comparing ourselves to the Prophet, because it would only serve to humble and humiliate, rather than to feed the ego. And then in doing so, maybe we would progress, instead of just talking about it.
For if we wish to live in the shadow of the Prophet, then we should at least work to deserve the shade.
To further my point, I recommend this audio clip by Dr. Tariq Ramadhan, al-Azhar scholar, celebrated author, and incidentally, grandson of the late Imam Hassan al-Banna. (Coutesy of TheRadicalMiddleWayProject)