In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful
I glance down at the empty plastic cup, circled in two small hands; a pair of gleaming eyes looked on intently as she pretended to take a sip and teased "It's only for girls." I make a rather exaggerated attempt to snatch it. In an instant she has turned and disappeared in to her room. I catch a glimpse of her curly locks as she intercepts the sunlight crashing through the living room window. My smile disappears instantly as I focus on the picture of a girl, some years senior to the child who filled my universe just minutes ago. I am filled with sadness for Malala, for her family, for us as humanity in general and for us as Muslims in particular. A familiar anguish registers forcefully yet again and I watch, like the majority of Muslims globally, as we fail to undo, the curse of a black and white world that George W. Bush initiated but since has been furthered relentlessly by his successor. An endless war rooted in grandiosity, condescendence and greed as much as it is supposedly about an endless stream of terror that masquerades as forces of absolute evil against forces of darkness. The narrative that unfolds and as it is retold endlessly, around the clock, with slight variations in flavour but absolute unanimity in incriminating the religion of the "other", is shouted from the television screens and Radios across the west. Who is the West? Is it the by and large wonderful people I have had the pleasure to meet in the US, my teachers, colleagues and friends? Or is it the people who sanctioned two wars, one supposedly over but with great dividends of control of energy resources and somewhere along the way re-elected a President who started these war on lies, while simultaneously asking Muslims to chant in unison, their denunciation of the acts of people who they, like the west, sees as obscure figures on television when they come out with reported videos threatening to kill everyone and everything that breathes?
Just prior to the weekend, in a small town of 3000, an elderly lady in rural America approached me and asked about "surviving Pakistan." I braced for a familiar conversation about how it is a country of a 180 million and not really just about the constant bad news you see on the media. Of course I can never explain in two minutes of sympathy coming my way the role of her own country in the mess in Afghanistan, the devastation of the economy that comes in the aftermath of US policies, the current corrupt lot that Washington has installed through unprecedented black laws such as the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that resulted in a puppet dictator exiting the country to find refuge abroad and ushered in well-known corrupt figures whose corruption of billions of dollars was forgiven by the outgoing dictator. I wanted to tell her that these are not crazy conspiracy theories but the very deception that alienates good people like herself and her fellow citizens from the "Muslim world." I wanted to tell her diplomacy in the Muslim world to the US is the mockery of democracy. That what I was saying to her was not a secret but documented by numerous western writers including the very officials in the midst of these ugly hijacking of the will of millions such as the former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice writing about her role in this wonderful piece of diplomacy in her book, believe it or not, titled "No higher honour." Within the borders of the US she is celebrated as the first Afro-American secretary of state, a testament to how America is overcoming its prejudices and simultaneously doing 'good' around the world. I wondered what she would think if I told her what this "other" from a distant land of murderers believes.
I wondered if she, her curiosity and genuine kindness would seem less condescending to me if she had the information she needed to judge me. Beyond the caricatures of me and many like me that she saw on TV, this woman knew nothing of my history or faith. I thought of Hazrat Bilal who had been a black Ethiopian slave in Makkah prior to the advent of Islam and who came to adore Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) and was one of his closest companions and who was tortured for accepting Islam as he was made to lay naked in the desert sand, burnt and crushed under the weight of stones on his chest as he continued to chant "Ahad … Ahad", a proclamation of his faith in the Oneness of God. I suspect that she would have at best either stared back blankly or at worst called the authorities for "she saw something, therefore she must say something."
Perhaps she would have been angered by my response, although staring at her bright blue eyes, repeated compliments on how well I speak English and the gentleness that she exuded it seemed quite unlikely. She may have challenged me stating that Islam does not sanction slavery and I would have invited her to sit down and have a discussion of what my faith represents. I would have loved to tell her the wisdom behind gradual phasing out of slavery that Islam represented. As I contemplated this elaborate conversation all in my mind I found eagerness to share how Islam had shaped for us an classless society based on justice. The very interests of the US leave it in need for feudals and dictators and works against the justice in society that Muslims long for. I would have loved to speak for myself instead of the convenience of her hearing a convenient truth about a complex world through the TV. I would have loved to share the following Hadith Narrated by Al-Ma'rur:
At Ar-Rabadha I met Abu Dhar who was wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a similar one. I asked about the reason for it. He replied, "I abused a person by calling his mother with bad names." The Prophet said to me, 'O Abu Dhar! Did you abuse him by calling his mother with bad names You still have some characteristics of ignorance. Your slaves are your brothers and Allah has put them under your command. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them.'
I could see that the pleasantness of our interaction as human beings had perhaps surprised her. I wanted to tell her that if she saw any goodness in me it was not despite the Quran that is my guide to life, but solely because of it. That this very book teaches me:
"It is not Al-Birr (piety, righteousness, and each and every act of obedience to Allah, etc.) that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west (in prayers); but Al-Birr is (the quality of) the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk, to the orphans, and to Al-Masakin (the poor), and to the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to set slaves free, performs As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat ), and gives the Zakat, and who fulfil their covenant when they make it, and who are patient in extreme poverty and ailment (disease) and at the time of fighting (during the battles). Such are the people of the truth and they are Al-Muttaqun (the pious)"
I would have loved to reference for her western authors documenting Islam's creation of a just and equal society. I would have loved to have a debate on the universality of human understanding of what is right and just, how America under Lincoln struggled with the same dilemma that to me Allah and his Messenger, Mohammed, Peace be upon him, showed us the wisdom to handle. In 1854 Lincoln stated in a speech:
"My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,—to their own native land. But a moment's reflection would convince me that whatever of high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible"
In 1862 Lincoln established a colony in Haiti where 500 freed slaves were sent. Many of them died of starvation and an outbreak of smallpox. In my mind thoughts raced of how to pick words to share the experience of watching the poorest amongst us lead us in prayers, pray side by side or in the front rows while many more affluent would stand way in the back of the mosque. I wanted to tell her that a 7 year old child praying next to me can ask me to align my feet with the rest right before the prayer commences with "Allahu Akbar" which to us means that our Creator is greater than anything and everything, be it the most comforts I can acquire in this world or the biggest calamity that can befall me. It liberates me from fear and sorrow. It is my understanding of freedom from greed, envy and hatred.
I worried she may have read the recent series on CNN about Slavery in Mauritania that seemingly popped up randomly and in the typical convenience of the western narrative on Islam equated slavery in Mauritania to Islam. It was convenient because a couple of days earlier one (or many?) US soldiers had murdered 16 Afghans. Lest any humanity of the other seep through the mirage created by the media a diversion is created to "contain" opinion. I was surprised at the extensive and random thoughts running through my head and was looking for a polite way to end our interaction when her next comment caught me off guard.
"It's terrible isn't it? The Taliban shooting this school girl ….."
In an instant she had assigned a face of convenience to the war on terror; The Muslim girls that the West is out to save. I felt sad for her ignorance and anguished at the state of Muslims worldwide. I wanted to tell her that the same puppets that her country has mounted as rulers, and who move around in security convoys of 100's of cars while citizens give birth and die on their way to the hospital in resultant traffic jams, had failed to give any security to this girl against a fringe element of criminals. The unprecedented looting and plundering of the country that has left people in abject poverty, without access to healthcare and education is not just seen as "collateral damage" of US policies but the very goals. I wanted to tell her that if China had drones killing people on the east coast with the US government not just failing to protect its citizens but being complicit in the murder of its civilians, surely there will be a segment of society that will take up arms against the government. I wished to have the wisdom to express that for every Malala that America has the delusion of being out to save; there are a million Iraqi children that die due to sanctions that did not target the dictators of yesteryears but the very people of the countries that you are out to save. A loss that Muslims around the world hear justified by Madeleine Albright as "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it. " I wanted to tell her that if Americans could at least begin to understand the dichotomy of what the US represents within its borders and without, even if is a statement like "Saddam was a bastard but he was our bastard", that Phil Donahue had the courage to express, the world would be a much less angry place.
I nodded with my eyes lowered and as we began to walk away I heard myself say, "Things are very different from what you see on TV."She smiled and walked away.
By: Ahmed Javed
Dt:Oct 15th, 2012
May Allah guide us all in the straight Path,Ameen!!!
Jazak Allahu Khairun,