By Sariya Contractor
This is a difficult subject to write about.
As Muslims, we can get quite emotional and sensitive about our identities.
We sometimes think that our particular ‘version’ of Islam is better than others and unfortunately we can sometimes be quite narrow-minded.
Often people are naïve about the vast historical, political and social stimuli that impact the ways in which we think about the ‘Other’ who is different.
We often come across literature that talks about the ‘othering’ of Muslims, but there is also occasionally some ‘othering’ within the Muslim community. It is sad, for example some Pakistani Muslims would think that Indian Muslims cannot be ‘proper Muslims’ because they live in secular India and because they may have friends who are not Muslims. It is also wrong that some Arabic-speaking Muslims would have a sense of superiority over non-Arabic speakers, just as some Urdu-speakers also have a superiority complex.
In all three above examples, the word “some” is key, as many scholarly and also young enlightened Muslims recognize the richness and diversity of Islam.
Indeed as American academic Esposito quite concisely writes, albeit a little controversially, “there is not one but many Islams”. He also recognizes that some Muslims could take offence to this statement and says that they would argue, “there is only Islam and many Muslims” (223)
Well whatever the standpoint we choose to take, as we glide through the 21st. century, grappling our way through globalization, layered identities, e-communication, online social networking and the so-called ‘Arab-spring’, now more than ever before, we collectively need to give some thought to our social, cultural and indeed our national identities. For this article, we shall focus on national identity. Who are we as Muslims?
As usual I ask – What would Muhammad (peace be upon him) do?
So are we Muslims first or are we Egyptian, Malaysian, British, Somali or whatever?
What is our position within the global Muslim nation and can there ever be unity within this nation?
Where do our loyalties lie and where should they lie?
Lesson 1 – Loyalty to One’s Own
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was from the Quraysh tribe. This was an old and powerful tribe with a proud lineage and the important responsibility of looking after the Ka’bah and pilgrims to Makkah.
From various versions of his biography, it is evident that Prophet Muhammad loved his family and his tribe. He rejoiced when anyone accepted Islam but was particularly pleased when a member of his family or the Quraysh accepted Islam.
He was also saddened by the persistent opposition that he faced from some elements within the Quraysh. Despite the persecution that the early Muslims faced, they and the Prophet persisted here in spreading the message of peace. In the wake of persecution he left Makkah, but it remained in his thoughts and strategies and after much struggle, he returned in peace to reclaim Makkah for all Muslims till eternity. In his reclamation of Makkah, there was minimal violence in what was essentially a military exercise.
Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad was just and fair in his behavior to friends, family, foes and detractors alike. As he addressed the Makkans who sought his refuge, he quoted
Prophet Joseph’s (peace be upon him) words and said:
"This day there shall be no upbraiding of you nor reproach! May Allah forgive you, and He is the Utmost Merciful of all those who show mercy." (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
Is there a lesson to be learnt here?
Yes of course there is!
This is a lesson about loyalty, love and responsibility to one’s own family, tribe, culture, people and indeed national identities. In our current contexts of successful revolution and self-governance, this is an extremely important lesson that teaches us the importance of loyalty, resilience, fairness, justice and forgiveness. Power can be quite delusional and after overcoming tyrant dictatorships we must constantly remind ourselves not to become dictators ourselves.