by Aziz Mamuji
The date on my plate ……….
I am about to break my fast …….. and I am thinking!
I should be content that my fellow Muslims and I have not eaten or drunk anything all day. We have deliberately refrained from worldly temptations and have appreciated that self-discipline and restraint are essential characteristics of life and this sacred month prepares us for it. Throughout the day we have rededicated ourselves to the betterment and strengthening of our individual personalities and our familial ties. We have also thought of the communities we live in and the nations we belong to. Of course our fast was not an obligatory phase of transient hunger, done in anticipation of a joyously indulgent end to the day. In fact we have performed an important duty and we should be justifiably proud!
However, as I lift the date off my plate, I find myself thinking again : Can we honestly claim to be above reproach ? Have we collectively really appreciated the myriad of issues and everyday problems associated with Muslims in general; and which require immediate attention ? Have we deliberated with open minds on the problems and obstacles which make an ideal Muslim nation a mythical utopia ? These are of course serious questions on very complex matters, which cannot be solved by simple multiple-choice answers. But then, should there be an apology for questioning?
The Holy Quran has quite categorically given us the licence to use our minds (34.46) and in fact beseeches us to do so (2:179/14:82). It reminds us that wisdom is a great gift (2:269) and proclaims the value of an intellectual approach towards understanding the essential substance of its message (12:108/29:43). The repeated call is for pondering and debating matters which concern our lives and for reflecting on those higher values that help the unhindered development of human capabilities and potential.
So, why shouldn’t we take the cue and devote a little time to some objective and mature reasoning. We have to reflect on the bain of ignorance which makes society unbearable (67:10); on matters which at most times are so seemingly obvious that our intransigence is difficult to explain; and we have to question why the Muslim world seems to be in eternal despair. Directly and indirectly, the Holy Quran gives us free reign in our attempts to understand the universe and our existence within it. We are urged to contemplate verses to arrive at balanced conclusions (4.82/23:68/38:29) and are admonished for not using our minds (7:179). Together with the right to question we are given the assurance that sincere study would not go waste; and we are also reminded of the higher social and personal values to which we must all aspire. The inherent focus is on the enhancement of an individual’s all round character, but the ultimate objective is the harnessing of these positive attributes for creating a balanced and holistic community.
While the virtues of knowledge and debate are highlighted throughout, the Holy Quran also dwells on philosophical characteristics by distinguishing between the ‘tangible’ physical reality which we can all perceive, and the more ethereal conceptual framework of knowledge which is necessary for an insight into how nature works. God also presents four inter-related aspects of the thought process, namely : akl, tadabber, nadhar and sha’oor, each of which constitutes an important step towards total comprehension. ‘Akl’ gives human beings the ability to judge between right and wrong and to consider whether one should or should not. It constitutes the force which actually tries to stop us doing wrong. Then there is ‘tadabber’, which is the deliberate pursuit of an issue to arrive at a logical conclusion, through continuous research. ‘Nadhar’ provides the overview which is crucial for assessing the broader implications of any action being anticipated. Finally, ‘sha’oor’ is the judicious mix of one’s deep insight; conscious analysis, experience, and knowledge. Collectively these help to arrive at principled decisions. Sadly, despite the tools at our disposal, we Muslims seem to be more comfortable with disparity; and whatever pondering we do is far too insular and self-orientated for our communal good.
The Holy Quran also asserts that ‘men in knowledge’ can better follow the guidance therein (39:18). Societies in which enlightened existence is the norm will neither stagnate nor disintegrate. On the contrary these would progress and prosper, largely because logic would pervade their political, economic and social structure. There would be no indifference to the needs of its different people, fraternity would prevail and intellectual expression would abound without inhibition. This is not naïve idealization – every small step counts.
My thoughts now briefly wander on to a wider perspective; and some of the fundamental values that have a direct bearing on our lives come to mind. We are each responsible for our actions, rewards and retribution as ‘no bearer of a burden bears another’s burden’ (53:38). A prejudice free community that manifests tolerance, human rights and justice should be our objective. We have to nurture the differing capabilities of its people for the greater good of all. History makes interesting reading, but this is largely because for centuries we have ignored the fact that mankind is one community (2:213).
The Muezim has finally called ……and I am filled with hope. Surely, Allah never intended His world to be so gloomy. He has promised ‘heaven’ on earth and has given us the wherewithal to achieve this. Let us then work for a better future for all Muslims and strive for inter-religious tolerance, inter-communal and inter-sect harmony and for international peace. Every little step matters.
The date is sweet …… and there are plenty more on my plate !
Aziz Mamuji is an Architect-Planner by profession. He is also the principal co-ordinator of the Kuwait Group of the Friends of SOS Children’s Villages in Pakistan