Friday, 4 May 2012

What do we REALLY want?

It’s a situation that can be found in thousands of Muslim households across the country - a few brothers (or sisters) meet up and have a chat. At some point the conversation may turn to current affairs in the UK or overseas. So far so good, few would argue that it is better to be discussing the world around us rather than the Premiership or Eastenders.

But then something seems to go wrong. The previous discussions are likely to have comprised many different views, which were not black and white but rather shades of grey. But when talking about current affairs, all views seem to converge, often within just a couple of minutes, to a black-and-white view of the world in which all the ills of the Muslim world are someone elses fault and where conspiracy theories are accepted without question.

It is as we have switched off all our critical thinking skills, all our perspective, all our understanding of what else is happening in the world.

Fortunately, this tendency to perceive victimhood in our communities has been recognised by some Muslims who are actively working in our communities. For example, Imam Zaid Shakir, an African-American scholar echoed this in an article published at the time of the ‘cartoons‘ controversy when he wrote 'Until we start to think of ourselves as the children of Adam, concerned about the welfare of all our fellow human beings, we are missing the point of being faithful. These are days when there is a lot of talk about defending the honour of the Prophet. What would it do for the honour of the Prophet if Muslims mobilised their tremendous resources to eradicate hunger from this planet? What would it say to the world if Muslims mobilised to end the conflict in the Congo or to make generic Aids drugs available where they are not?'.

Where have these attitudes come from?
A number of Islamic thinkers asked themselves why the Muslim community has such a sense of victimhood and is so susceptible to talk of conspiracy theories.

Part of the reason relates to the fact the Muslims in the West are a minority, yet live in a society that allows groups to share power. This is a relatively novel position for Muslims to be in. The late Dr Zaki Badawi has commented that “Muslim theology offers, up to the present, no systematic formulation of the status of being in a minority” while Ebrahim Moosa, a South African Scholar, has written that much of Islam’s intellectual legacy from a time when ‘Islam was a political entity and an empire. A cursory glance at this intellectual legacy will show how this idealogogy of empire permeates theology, jurisprudence (and) ethics’

Another issue is the attitude taken by some Islamic movements, and by some Ulema in the UK, who take a stance of victimhood and search to blame others for our ills. Hamza Yusuf commented on this in a 2001 article for Q-News where he said ‘Islam has been hijacked by a discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage (broadcast from pulpits) in which people with often recognisable psychpathology use anger. . . to rile Muslims up, only to leave them biter and spiteful towards (non-Muslims) people who in the most part are completely unaware of the conditions in the Muslim world, or of the oppressive assaults of some western counties on Muslim peoples.’ Asking where our spokespeople, theologians and literary figures were he wrote that ‘The truth is we don’t have any – and so instead of looking inward and asking painful questions we take the simple way out by attacking people’.

Our neighbours

So what can ordinary people do to help?
It is perhaps relating a conversation that I had with a Muslim brother a couple of months ago, a conversation that was the spark that provoked the writing of this article. We were discussing the situation in Afghanistan and he commented that he wanted the US troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. I asked him whether his priority was for the US troops to leave or for the Afghani people to have a better life, pointing out that the last time the US left Afghanistan to its own devices, the country quickly descended into civil war, with Muslim killing Muslim. His reply was so long as it was Afghan killing Afghan, it was their own problem to sort out. . .

That response has troubled me deeply and has left me with the wish to urge you, when you are next having a similar discussion, to ask yourself – What do YOU really want? And what can you do to achieve it? Because whinging, whining and blaming will never help someone in Afghanistan. He only way you can help him (or her) is to DO something practical – donate to one of the many charities active in the area, help refugees from Afghanistan who are living in our area (as is being done by Himmah Institute), write to your MP to insist that the UK focuses on reconstruction, not military action, write to the OIC (or similar Muslim organisation) to ask why the Muslim world cannot lift a finger to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Life is not black and white – there are many reasons why Afghanistan is in the state it is – and there are many players who need to be involved in setting the situation right.

But Afghanistan is just one example of where one can do something practical – there are many others. You need only look around your community to find examples of youth workers trying to help the disadvantaged, of environmental groups needing volunteers, of groups helping children to read - organisations of all kinds who you could help to grow and prosper. And do not feel you need be restricted to Muslim groups. You may wish to take the advice of the City Circle who advise people that “if they are concerned with foreign policy, they should join Amnesty International. If they have an issue with civil liberties they should join groups such as Liberty.”

Imagine if this was your bedroom every evening. . . .

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