Friday, February 24, 2012

Inter(tra)-faith Justice

A pacifist friend recently invited me to an interfaith Peace Prayer, but I had to turn her down.

That's because it was going to be all prayer and no action. None of the clergy participating were willing to even mention the most obvious obstacle to peace: war.  

That event never materialized but in the decade after 9/11--fraught with growing Islamophobia and ongoing wars against Muslim countries--there has been an explosion of interfaith dialogue at the individual, community and national levels. It's generally aimed at fostering tolerance, respect, understanding, and finally, cooperation. 

But what eludes most interfaith enthusiasts is that mutual cooperation has a clearly defined goal, and it goes beyond accomplishing a Kumbaya moment. We are supposed to unite to fight oppression on earth.

Scholar Muhammad Ali Shomali of the Imam Khomeini Research Institute (IKRI) gets it. IKRI and Mennonite scholars in North America have been holding interfaith conversations for the past ten years in Canada and Iran.

"My dream is to have a joint Muslim and Christian organization that works for peace and justice," Shomali says. "We would work together, shoulder to shoulder, to establish peace and justice all over the world. It is not impossible."

God has ordered such unity on three fronts: (1) amongst all of humanity, (2) amongst People of the Book (monotheists) and (3) amongst Muslims.

Though it is a religious obligation, efforts towards intrafaith cooperation amongst Muslims (belonging to different sects) is, unfortunately, scant at most Islamic centers and organizations. We can stay committed to our own beliefs and practices while working together on our common cause: ending oppression for the sake of God. 

God: "Truly, your nation is one united nation, and I am your Lord." (Quran 23: 52), and, "And hold fast, all together by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided amongst yourselves." (3: 103) 

Prophet Muhammad (S): "Believers are brethren, their lives are equal to each other and they are as one hand against their enemy.”

We can learn unity through justice from Zainab, daughter of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times). In the aftermath of Kerbala--where she witnessed the brutal massacre of her brother Hussain and other family members of the Prophet (S)--Zainab courageously spoke out against the oppressors as well as their silent spectators. Her call for truth and justice inspired many Muslims, some of whom organized uprisings against the ruling regime. 

Zainab to Yazid: "Those who have made you the head of state and burdened the Muslims with your leadership will soon find out what awaits them. The end of all tyrants is agony." 

With oppression rampant around the world, sincere seekers of truth and justice have no choice but to unite in order to resist those who have been allowed to "divide and conquer" for far too long.

As Imam Khomeini warns: "We Muslims are busy bickering over whether to fold or unfold our arms during prayer, while the enemy is devising ways of cutting them off!"


xavier said...

Asalaam alaikum,

Intra/inter-faith gatherings is quite difficult due to two factors: racism and community politics. And it has the most devastating result: alienating the youth and converts/reverts.

Such was the case during the time of Imam Zainul Abideen (as). After the martyrdom of his male family members at Karbala, the Imam had the responsibility to spread Islam while still being marginalized and persecuted by Yazid (la) and those who followed him.

During this time, Yazid (la) would order the attacks on Medina which culminated in the raping of women to such a degree that it has been said that 9 months later, 1,000 illegitimate children were born. Then Yazid (la) gave order to his armies to topple Mecca itself, and trying to burn even the Ka'bah to the ground. During this attack of Mecca, Yazid (la) had the Wrath of God befall him and thus, the armies left Mecca and the Ka'bah was saved by Allah (swt), much like the story of the Qur'an about the elephant. History does repeat itself!

Yet, what does this have to do with the topic? It was during this time that the 4th Imam had to spread the message of Islam, albeit safely. He did this through teaching his servants, which meant that he had to employ many of them from all creeds. When he did, he versed them in Qur'an and religious training, along the wisdom he could parlay to them from the age of 20-57, not to mention reciting his glorious, emotional duas, and the Treatise of Rights. Anyhow, when his servants would return to him, he would ask as to how their da'wah was going. When they reported that things weren't going too well, the Imam asked why. They said that the elders would hardly ever let them speak and would not listen. To this the Imam replied: Go to the youth!

And so, much like Yazid (la) of yesterday, the corruption of racism and community politics of our elders is defiling the potential of our actions today, and must end quickly. To oppose it, is why actions that speak out, address and march against tyranny must be the forefront of our religious duty and cooperation among the Abrahamic faiths. To not do so is to treat the lives of Abraham (as), Moses (as), Jesus (as) and Muhammad (saw) as mere stories while the world turns in turmoil whether you are Jewish, Christian or Muslim, respectively.

Religion is not a hobby then, but a way of life that pushes us as defenders of Truth versus the falsehoods of today within ourselves, our community and the world at-large. And indeed, it must include the youth and converts to springboard it. The reformation of our world demands it.

Allah (swt) in the Holy Qur'an says: "We sent aforetime our messengers with clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, that men may stand forth in Justice." [Al-Hadeed 57:25].

"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do." [An-Nisa 4:35]

Salina Khan said...

Good points, Brother. Thank you for sharing!