Friday, September 10, 2010

Shunning extremism on both sides

Bashir Goth

Burning the Quran, what burning! As President Obama rightly said this is just “a stunt” and without the limelight given to it by the sensation-seeking, globalized media that makes a mountain out of a molehill, Pastor Terry Jones would have remained an unknown pastor holed up in his equally unknown Dove World Outreach Center.

His prime objective was to bring world attention to himself and to his church and he succeeded; as the media brouhaha that is following his antics has just given him that.

One cannot blame the media for sniffing the source of news but it is the Muslims who can either deny Pastor Jones the opportunity to further exploit his media stunt for more self-promotion or fall for his cheap clownish gimmick and reward him for his action by giving him undeserved and unnecessary attention.

Muslims need not go any further to know that no force in the world, let alone a man who claims to have no more than three dozen people as his followers can obliterate the Quran. Jones says that he is waiting a message from God as to whether he calls off his burning of the Quran or not, but Muslims know that the Almighty God has given them his word more than 15 centuries ago and had unequivocally promised them that He and no one else has sent down the Quran and that He alone shall preserve it:

“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian. (Al-Hijr 15:9)

It should be clear to anyone who believes and understands the power of this Ayah that no one can challenge the power of God and anyone who does that is just making an illusionary and futile attempt to deceive the world and to create a stunt to gain some transient and laughable worldly benefits for himself. With that in mind, it is expected of enlightened Muslims to take the moral high ground and act as the holy Quran enjoins them to behave in a situation like this:

“And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” (Fussilat 41:34)

It is again the Quran that teaches Muslims not to reduce themselves to the level of the ignorant but rise above it and set a good example in civility and human decency when they receive ill treatment from an ignorant person:

“…And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace…” (Al Furqan 25:63)

It will indeed be unbecoming for any Muslim who knows the core message for which the prophet was sent to act any other way than to follow the Prophet’s footsteps and heed his words:

"The only reason I have been sent is to perfect good manners.”

So what manners one can imagine fits in this case than not to allow oneself to be dragged into the abyss by such a deviant person who has been disowned by his own church that he founded in Germany and condemned by and large by all religious denominations in America and the world and by the majority of the American political leaders regardless of their ideological orientations. It is, therefore, silence in this case that is more profound and more resounding than raising any commotion that could be counterproductive. It is not a silence of weakness but it is a silence that sends the most powerful message as the 9th century British Poet Martin Tupper said:

“Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech”.

In a situation like this, one may also take solace of the inspiring story of Abdul Muttalib and the Abyssinian King Abraha. Just as Pastor Jones wants to burn the Quran, Abraha brought with him a massive army, many of them mounted on elephants, to destroy the Ka’aba of Mecca, the place of worship of the Arabs at the time and the most venerated place for all Muslims now. The story goes that when Abraha’s army reached the vicinity of Mecca some of his army looted 200 camels that belonged to Abdul Muttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet Mohammad, who was also the most respected elder in Mecca and the custodian of the Ka’aba.

Abdul Muttalib came to the camp of Abraha and demanded the king to return his camels to him. Surprised to hear that all Abdul Muttalib wanted was a compensation for his camels and not to dissuade him to leave the Ka’aba, Abraha asked Abdul Muttalib why he didn’t talk about the Ka’aba instead of his camels. Abdul Muttalib’s answer was simple and clear:
"I am the master of the camels,” he said, “whereas the Ka’abah house of worship has its lord to defend it". And when Abraha indicated that no one could defend it from him, Abdul Muttalib told him that he was on his own. Finally, Abraha gave him the camels back, while the fate of his mission is well illustrated by Surat Al Fil (The Elephant).

Over 15,00 years ago and through his Bedouin wisdom, the Prophet’s grandfather realized that it was futile to hassle with a daring ignorant over something that was in the hands of a better defender than him and his clan.

Another striking lesson for Muslims in feeling pity for the actions of the ignorant is the story of how Prophet Mohammad reacted to the calamity he met in the hands of the people of the village of Taif when he went there to call them to Islam at the beginning of his mission. Instead of listening to him, the people of Taif ridiculed him and sent their children and the insane to chase him out of the village by throwing rocks at him. The story says that when Mohammad was out of the village he was soaked with blood from head to toe and his shoes were clogged to his feet.

Seeing him in this pathetic state, the Archangel Gabriel brought him a message from God telling him that if Mohammad wished God would order the Angel in charge of the mountains to move the two mountains on either side of the village to collide and crush the people to death. Mohammad’s reply which should stand as a glaring example of tolerance and rising above ignorance was:

“O Allah, guide these people, because they did not know what they were doing.”

One finds no better and no wiser example in dealing with a situation like that of Pastor Jones or any future misfit begging for media attention than that of the Prophet. Anything else will only be facing ignorance with ignorance and igniting a fire that will burn good people on both sides.

The best lesson that both Americans and Muslims can learn from this incident is that extremist people are a minority voice that don’t represent anyone one but their own deviant souls. Therefore, Americans should know that when a fiery Muslim cleric shouts death to America, he doesn’t talk on behalf of the millions of Muslims around the world who admire the good values of the American people and likewise Muslims should realize that when a person like Pastor Jones shouts burn the Quran, the majority of the Americans see him as a nut case who doesn’t represent the great American people.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Two roads, similar history – Awdal Road and Fairfax Country Road
Bashir Goth, Washington D.C, Sept. 07, 2010

It is more than 30 years since the people of Borama started their long journey for the building of the Borama-Dilla Road. They started their bidding in the early 1980s when the construction of the tarmac road coming from Hargeisa was abandoned at Dilla. Ever since, the elders of Awdal have tirelessly raised the issue with every government delegation and every NGO that came to the region. Now after almost 30-odd years, the people have realized that an external assistance was not forthcoming and the only way they could build the road was to rely on their community’s resources and effort.

Having that in mind, it was inspiring for me to read a similar story in the pages of the Washington Post where the community of Fairfax County, Virginia in the United States, had to wait for 50 years for the construction of a road. I just happened to open the pages of the paper’s Sunday edition on Sept. 6, 2010 to read the following title:

After 50 years, Fairfax County Parkway finally heads toward the finish line
As I delved deeper into the story with great interest I was amazed by the resemblance of the history of the two roads despite the difference between the two communities in terms of wealth and civilization. The Fairfax Country Parkway was built in pieces just like the Borama-Dilla Road is being built now, mile by mile.
"The funding has been so uneven over the years, and as a result it got built in pieces," said Rep. Gerry E. Connolly, who served as a Fairfax County commissioner for 14 years before being elected to Congress in 2008.

Just as the Awdal community found the government to be an unreliable financial supporter and had to rely instead on local money, the Fairfax County community also found the state to be a non-reliable funding partner and had to resort to local community for support.

"The state wasn't a reliable funding partner, and an unusual percentage of the project got funded by local dollars,” Connolly said.

The comparison, however, has a more bitter taste for the Fairfax County community as their County happens to be the most prosperous county in one of the most prosperous states in America, while the Borama-Dilla Road is located in one of the poorest regions in Africa. Therefore, while the progress of the Fairfax Country Road was hampered by government bureaucracy, the delay of the Borama-Dilla Road was partly due to lack of resources and partly due to lack of proper appropriation of the government’s meager resources.

"It has taken seven Virginia governors and the better part of four decades to complete a 35-mile roadway in the most prosperous county in one of the most prosperous states in the country," said Bob Chase, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. "That's relevant in terms of how complicated and difficult it is to advance critically needed transportation projects in Northern Virginia."

As the Fairfax Road nears its end, the community there has already started dreaming of a brighter future where metro services should come to the area.

"Metro has got to be a part of our future," Connolly said. "It's got to come down I-66 to Gainesville, it's got to come down I-95 to Potomac Mills and we've got to have light rail down the Richmond highway corridor.

Maybe it is time for Awdal people as well to start planning for the post road period, a period where they have to dream of a new dawn of larger highways and even train or metro systems connecting the different parts of the region. But as Connolly urged the Fairfax County community for patience by saying:

"These things are critical projects for the future…but these things take time. You can't just do them overnight." I may also caution the people of Awdal that with patience and perseverance that you will prevail. So fellow Awdalites, stay the course and know that you are not alone in your struggle for development as you share history with one of the richest counties and states in America.