Ripples over the Mandela Reflection

Alhamdulliulah I was recently published in the Young Muslim Digest, an Islamic monthly magazine, published out of Bangalore for the last three decades. The article was written after Nelson Mandela’s death and might seem a bit dated. Anyway, the article can be found on YMD’s Website and has also been reproduced in full here.

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It has been very interesting to see the reactions over the last few days, over the death of Nelson Mandela, the South African icon of the struggle against Apartheid and Colonialism. There has been a clamour across the social media universe, honouring and eulogising the dead man. There are two aspects of this that are interesting to me personally.

One is the general trend of Social Media Herd-Mentality and the other being the Muslim response about the same. Herd Mentality can be described as how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviours, follow trends, and/ or purchase items. The social media seems to be the biggest grazing ground for the lot. When deaths such as Mandela’s happen, it is hard to discern whether the sympathy is heartfelt or just an attempt to be among the ‘in-crowd.’ Or maybe it isn’t so hard, but then, who’s counting the statuses.

Marc Maron, the comedian had a quote about the social media effect in his memoir, Attempting Normal, which is quite telling about the emotional state of social media users. He says that the social media culture feeds into our inner-child’s need to be emotionally sated. The user attempts to fulfil his need to be loved and cared through the trickles of likes and comments that follow the status updates. As cynical as it may sound, moments like these make me a believer.

Very few people would truly understand what it meant to be Mandela. A man who built his own prison which he was to live in for 27 years on Robben Island, who, upon his release, saw it better to forgive his oppressors, is not someone you appreciate through a single status update or two.

The internet and the real world is creaking with the weight of sanitised messages from politicians and leaders alike, who purposely gloss over the fact that many of Mandela’s views would not hold much currency today. After all, he was taken off the US Global Terrorist list only in 1998.

Many of the world leaders, who offer their condolences today, reflect on Mandela’s exceptional courage to not only survive jail, but also lead a nation after his release. Yet, they seem to be quite happy to forget that, under their own watch, there are tens of illegally held detainees often with no charges and usually with no trials. Actually, the detainees – made out as terrorists today to suit the needs of the establishment, and probably made heroes tomorrow if the people and media see it fit – have more in common with Mandela than their leaders.

A real tribute to the likes of Mandela cannot be encapsulated in a statement or two. He spent a lifetime fighting for justice and our closing our eyes to the very injustice he spoke and fought against is an insult to his memory.

The issues of apartheid and social inequality were neither caused by aliens nor have they ended. They were, in fact, human problems, caused by humans and have taken very different, yet distinct, forms for those who see through it. No amount of social messages can hide this fact; yet, a decent-sized friend/ follower list on Facebook or Twitter can surely distract a person from this truth.

Patience and perseverance in attaining the objective of truth and establishing a society of justice was taught to us by our Prophet (saws). If he was the true paragon of the struggle, then the likes of Mandela are also examples. Truth and justice are not the monopoly of a religion or region but are values of universal hope for the human race.

Thus, for those who seem to be in awe of Mandela, yet know nothing about him save a few titbits gleaned from the cyberworld, it would be best if they, at least, read a book about him, learn about his struggle and maybe implement an aspect or two into their own lives, struggling for justice in their own way.

While an attention-seeking post on the social media might bring you momentary benefits, the struggle for the betterment of society itself could bring benefits above and beyond imagination, if Allah (swt) sees it fit.

This brings me to the second point of the article which is the Muslim response – or, rather, the responses – on the net. For everywhere you go, there seems to be a view about it among the internet Jama’ath. Without doubt, Mandela was a great man who achieved a lot in this dunya. That Allah (swt) made his name ubiquitous seems a fitting reward for his efforts.

The question that seems to trouble many though, is his state in the Hereafter (Akhira). On the one hand, there is a trend of wishing RIP (see Herd-Mentality above) and, on the other, a strong statement of his ineligibility for attaining the mercy of Allah (swt) and the castigation of the former or even of anybody appreciating him.

Islam is the religion of the middle path and we judge by what is apparent. The most fitting of examples is of Abu Talib who, in spite of his devotion to the Prophet (saw), was not released from the punishment of the Fire, even as revealed by the Prophet (saw) himself. As for the fate of one already dead, since we have no means of revelation after our Prophet (saw), it is impossible to say which way he, or she, is going. The matter of faith, though, is clear enough: Muslims are not allowed to pray for the forgiveness of those who died in denial of Allah’s Oneness and, therefore, to be on the safer side, it would be better to avoid statements of similar import.

At the same time, an individual’s final resting place is a matter for Allah (swt) to decide, and taking up His role in this act of determination would be blameworthy. Thus, it would be fitting for a believer to concern himself with his own Akhira and not be bothered about that of a person already dead and gone. If that person happens to be someone like Mandela though, then, maybe, he can take a few lessons in how to conduct his Dunya.

Of Jasmines and the Internet

I wrote this article a long time ago, when  I was in India and the so called Arab Spring had just begun. Tunisia had already removed their leaders and Hosni Mubarak was to be soon deposed. I was thinking about Syria and putting down my thoughts about it when I remembered this. In the face of the current Syrian situation this article almost looks naive. Khair. Read through to remember how “easy” the revolutions before Syria were. More on Syria later

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When, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, set himself on fire a couple of weeks back, out of sheer desperation that poverty brings with it, little did he know he was going to stoke flames of dissent long buried in the hearts of the citizens of the Middle East. These flames now raging like wildfires all over the Middle East from Yemen to Egypt have their leaders running for cover. Fanned by Internet Media ( Facebook, Twitter etc.) and to some extent the reports of Al Jazeera News Channel, Bouazizi’s self immolaion has set in motion a possible domino effect of governmental change across the Middle East. Tunisia’s own president Mr. Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali has long since resigned and is now under self imposed exile in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hosni Mubarak’s family has already fled to London fearing for the safety of their lives.

JasmineThough uprisings against self-styled dictators in the Middle East arent uncommon given the massive corruption, rot and decay that exist in government institutions, the protests this time around have had a sense of purpose to it. Dubbed the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ to signify a revolution occurring across societies, Tunisians are not ready to step down until there is a popular government in place while Egyptians today hope to garner the support of a million people as they march to ouster Mr. Mubarak. While I scan the updates coming from Egypt constantly, I can’t help but laud the people of Egypt in their efforts. It would be insolent on my part to claim that affairs of Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations had been on my radar prior to these uprising. Yet, the popular nature of these protests is definitely noteworthy. Regular people who live regular lives have stepped out on to the streets to voice their opinion against the oppression that has left them crushed. The Egyptian army sent in to quell the crowds has declared hints of support towards the ‘Million Strong March’. Reports by Robert Fisk at The Independent currently in Egypt talk of the camaraderie and brotherhood apparent among the protestors and the law enforcement agents.

Such images are encouraging to say the least and though already democratized as a nation it is important for us as Indians to sit up and take notice of the developments taking place in the Middle East. True we elect our representatives, but governance in India today is a joke. How different is Hosni Mubarak from those in power today? Aren’t we witness to some of the biggest scams in modern Indian history? While we recline comfortably in our couches hardly having too wait for a live stream of the IPL on our 3G enabled cell phones, how many thousands literally die of hunger in India? Activists of human rights are simply convicted for secession and terrorism, while real terrorists and criminals languish in jail cells or government chairs afforded the best in their class of luxury! I reiterate our governance is a joke and we need to take a stand.

As I already mentioned the people in the protests in Egypt and related countries are everyday people with everyday stories like yours and mine. Another thing I’d like to mention is that we do not need to get onto the streets to create change. It took our freedom fighters 90 years (from the Revolt of 1857) to garner independence for us Indians. It hardly took 3 weeks (from the self-immolation of Bouazizi) to bring the matter to a head in Egypt. The difference this time being the pervasive nature of social networking and print/TV media. Boon or bane, one can hardly deny the role that Facebook et al. had to play in precipitating the events in the Middle East. While we watch the social networking revolution blitz us daily with new offerings it is imperative for us to indulge in a thought revolution. Muslims are the original disciples of SatyaGraha, learning it from their Prophets and in particular Mohammed (PBUH) while Indians were taught the ways of struggle by Gandhi himself. Through a revolution stemming not from violence but from moral rectitude and adherence to ethical standards there is hope for positive change again. A revolution that can be taken to the doorstep of almost any person above the age of 15 and having access to the internet without having to set a foot on the ground. A revolution which any person who follows the affairs of the world around will “Like”.

It is up to us to take notice of the issues that plague us. It is up to us to make the right noises about these issues. It is also up to us that the noises we make are heard by so many people that it can truly make a difference. The good news is we have a tool we can easily use. The bad news is we don’t “Share”.

PS : – While it is very easy for us to be happy with developments in Egypt, let us not forget the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that pervade the streets. Shops and homes are being looted by anti social elements and food supply is becoming scarce. People who lose possessions in this period lose them for good. I pray for a speedy end to these occurences that is causing so much discord and I also pray for the lasting peace for the people of Egypt. Amen.