I remember a scene often. I was 17, and about to enter a debate, ready to win, carrying a pile of books under my arm (many of which I had not read). Its a scene I continue to look back on when considering my own development into researching the religion I follow.
At 17 the mind is young and vulnerable and it is often at this time where we begin to question our beliefs – Why does God exist? What is Islam? , Why do I follow the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and eventually, Why am I a Shia or a Sunni?
It was a discussion after college, myself along with peers were ‘ready’ to debate with fellow friends who belonged to the Sunni sect of Islam. We gathered at the staircase and began to set out our books so that we could refer to hadiths (oral traditions which have been recorded) and then use them to back our points. It was with this approach that we were sure of winning this debate and in turn feeling a sense of pride and achievement.
Looking back I tell myself that this scenario was a mere development of my own thoughts and thinking, I was young and full of energy and it is these experiences that helped me understand my own identity. The discussion that day was not about trying to bring understanding to one another, it was rather an exercise of how effectively one could regurgitate what they had read to back a point they were trying to make. From what should have been an effective exploration of thoughts and understanding it quickly turned into a sour expression of anger and shouting over one another – we were all eager and energetic and the fundamental principle that lacked that day was that of manners and respect.
Now being in my mid 20′s I look back with a whole different light I chuckle to myself and cringe at the memories of how I eagerly wanted my Sunni counterparts to understand my views and then feeling a sense of frustration when they quickly dismissed points that were dear to me. As perhaps expected the discussion did not achieve anything and both parties went home thinking their job was done and they were now expert historians in Islamic history.
As one matures into their adult life that burst of spontaneous self-taught-scholar-enthusiasm subsides, changing from being waves whose energy will brush aside all sandcastles to a measured, calm, gentle tide. It is here that the famous saying of the Greek philosopher Socrates comes to one’s mind.
The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know. — Socrates
This helps in ensuring that an holistic outlook on both life and the very issues that frustrated me back when I was 17 is achieved. One learns that although one may differ in their opinions it is by no means an excuse to feel angered or frustrated. Whilst I chuckle at the memories above I also understand its importance for it helped me develop, realise and understand that methods of confrontation are indeed methods to failure.
What happened this week in Woolwich was indeed a crime of grotesque barbaric nature it is one that leaves the viewer shocked. I found myself replaying the widely distributed video, wanting to examine the words of the attacker, his body language, his expressions. I wanted to try to understand what brought him to such a state that he would in the light of day kill and murder a member of the public. His words are all to familiar the same extremist rhetoric that we have been hearing for many years but there was one line I wanted to pick up upon which I found interesting in which he said,
“.. If I saw your mother today with a buggy, I would help her up the stairs this is my nature, but we are forced by the Quran in Surah Al-Towba, through many many Ayat throughout the Quran, that we must fight them as they fight us..”
Immediately I ask myself ’Why did he feel there was a need to show an example of his compassion and the immediately misquote the Quran to justify his horrific crime?’ For me, it highlights a person who falls under the typical profile of those that have been swayed by extremist thoughts and ideologies. Much like street gang culture, you will find that extremists lack an identity. Who are they? What do they represent? What have they achieved in their lives? These questions paint a fundamental picture of a character of a person. As many commentators have said, these characters seek an aim/goal in life and they will channel this need through these measures. Whether it’s a disengaged youth who joins a gang to fulfil his need for self empowerment or a vulnerable youth whose mind is tarnished by the hateful words of an extremists preacher. The attackers words expose this very struggle – whilst he acknowledges that he aspires to hold traits of a good character, sadly his mind has been devoured by the need for an identity through the path of extremism, the very path that goes against the fundamentals of the religion of Islam.
Consequently, what Woolwich stands to remind us is that preachers of hate and intolerance sadly still exist today, and it is these individuals who play with religion like a puppeteer, mixing and matching current political affairs with aspects of religion that have been taken out of context. In my blog here I mentioned that these characters often posses a powerful tongue. They are good with their speech and know what buttons to press that will prey on the minds of youth and distort their minds development.
I look back with fond memories at my mind at 17 and I urge todays youth to be vigilant of intolerance. Let us not let the hate speech of a minority speak for the overwhelming majority. It’s not surprising that the attacker of Woolwich was also present at a march organised by the extremist preacher Anjem Choudary, the same individual who recently organised a march in the middle of London inciting hatred against Shia Muslims .
The development of ones mind is a beautiful path it’s through the reading of history, our experiences and discussions that we hopefully reach a mindset that is both progressive and tolerant of all views and backgrounds. I end with two verses from the holy Quran that for me are clear in how one should carry themselves. They speak of well-mannered behaviour in both our actions and our words.
[Surah 2:83] And when We made a covenant with the children of Israel: You shall not serve any but Allah and (you shall do) good to (your) parents, and to the near of kin and to the orphans and the needy, and you shall speak to men good words and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate. Then you turned back except a few of you and (now too) you turn aside.
[Surah 4:7-8] Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, whether there is little or much of it; a stated portion. And when there are present at the division the relatives and the orphans and the needy, give them (something) out of it and speak to them kind words.