x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Learning from others' scandals

The lessons that we can learn from the scandals of others are the frailty of the human condition and the invaluableness of bravery.

As the Catholic Church audits the dark recesses of chronic illness and looks for a light at the end of the labyrinth of lost directions, it is not time to gloat at the misfortunes of an institution that not too long ago pointed the finger of accusation at Islam as the source of all evil. Instead, it is time to reflect on the lessons that must be learnt from tragedies that, once they become a part of history, cannot be turned back.

The lessons that we can learn from the scandals of others are the frailty of the human condition and the invaluableness of bravery. We need to condition ourselves not to be surprised when people - despite their sincerest aspirations - prove the frailty of their humanity. Nietzsche's "uber-man" does not exist and fallibility is the inseparable quality of the human essence. The Creator himself says in the Quran, "and man has been created weak". It is only when we lose sight of this reality that we become susceptible to shock and trauma. While religious leadership must be based on spiritual and gnostic merit and not fixed vocational policies, we also have to allow for people to be human. It's not just fairness to them, but also for the sake of our own sanity.

The second lesson is the invaluable quality of bravery. Despite the themes of consumer advertising and corporate marketing, we live in a world that places a premium on conformity. In such an environment where the nail that sticks out is quickly hammered back into place, we stand to lose the saving force of bravery. To speak up when everyone is silent, to comment on a given authority's "new wardrobe" where public safety or morality demands it. Without bravery, the leak in the hull of the ship is never attended to and the "bystander effect" prevails. Have we fostered enough moral force in our community to speak up when the situation warrants, or will we be the "tongueless devil" to which the Prophet Mohammed referred?

Let me add a third point to this that needs to be deeply reflected upon by all those in positions of leadership, whether it be social, political or spiritual. It needs to be understood that the worst part of this case is not the physical abuse. Physical wounds heal and bodies are reconstructed. It is the abuse of trust that causes what is often irreparable trauma. Before anyone who carries the "amanah" (responsibility) of the trust of other human souls points the finger of derision at another, they had better engage in some very serious self-audit. One of the key contributors to the failure of modern society is our not recognising the immensity of responsibility for the souls that have been entrusted to those in leadership.

The Muslim community and its leadership should take this opportunity to perform its own internal audit. Are we addressing our issues? Do we speak up when fairness and right demand it, or are we in the habit of sweeping everything unsightly or uncomfortable under the rug? That doesn't mean to advocate that issues not be dealt with discretely, just that they be dealt with. Discretion is part of good conduct just like pointing the self-satisfied finger of derision at others is not, the Prophet Mohammed prohibited "broadcasting scandalous behaviour".

In the words of the Fourth Caliph of Islam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, "Take yourselves to account before you are taken to account." Jihad Hashim Brown is the director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.