x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Rethinking the meaning of Muslim, part three

It is the calling of the Muslim as "stranger" to advise both parties in conflict as to the best course toward amenable and sustainable resolutions.

In what has preceded, we have spoken of how Muslim identity should be defined by a "grounded authenticity", as opposed to ideology, "identity politics", or orthodoxy. If we look closely at the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, we can easily see that this identity pivots on three underpinning modalities; that of autonomous-uniqueness, healing, and enlightenment.

We began talking about autonomous-uniqueness and how it derives from the concept of stranger-ship in the prophetic "hadith" literature. The Muslim is set apart from the crowd, not susceptible to "herd" mentality. She is thoughtful, and chooses her course of action based on reasoned consideration of both right and wrong, as well as priorities and goals. She is not a bystander; when a situation requires action or intervention, when others are content to turn away, she steps in to do the right thing.

The Muslim is part of the world yet not "of" it. He has one foot in this world and one foot in the "unseen". He is detached from the material world - it is not the target of his aspiration - while he maintains a deep-seated concern for the well-being of its people. The Muslim is awake to his moment and not sleeping through life. He is alive, his heart hasn't died from cynicism or nihilistic-scepticism. The Quran refers to this when it asks: "Is the person who was dead and we imbued him with life and made for him a light by which he walks amongst the people like another, lost in darkness, unable to find a way out?"

The Muslim is a person of light and not shadows. Light benefits its possessor, enabling her to find her way through the dark. But it also provides warmth and clarity to all those in proximity. The meaning of "Muslim" is to be illuminated and illuminating. Part of his autonomous-uniqueness is that he is a free soul, unshackled by earthly attachments. We spoke before of how Islam has the capacity to respect ethnic, cultural, and national affiliations. Only, the Muslim is not owned by his affiliations; instead, he owns his affiliations and employs them in the best interests of society.

The Prophet Mohammed startled his companions with a new twist on an old Arab saying. After driving home to them a new sense of fairness and responsibility, especially for the downtrodden and disenfranchised, he said, in a seemingly unexpected turn: "Come to the aid of your brother, whether he is the oppressor or the oppressed." Dumbfounded, they said that, based on his teachings up to that point they could understand how to assist when he is oppressed, but how so when he is the oppressor?

"Stop him from his oppression," he replied point blankly. As a result of this perspective, the believer is not a party to conflict and in most instances will not take sides, but will remain an impartial observer. This is because in almost all circumstances of conflict, both sides are in the wrong in some way. It is the calling of the Muslim as "stranger" to advise both parties in conflict as to the best course toward amenable and sustainable resolutions. The preference is always to move matters toward a diplomatic solution. The Quran says: "If your opponent inclines toward peace, then you also so incline."

From her vantage point as "stranger" or of "autonomous-uniqueness", the Muslim is a factor of balance in a world that abounds with catalysts toward chaos. "Islam" means submission to the natural harmony of the cosmos despite the rebellious element in the human ego. It is when people are convinced to relinquish resistance - to the natural order - and align themselves with "original harmony", that peace prevails.

But this is not a mere détente, or "absence of conflict", it is a sustainable and balanced peace of hearts and minds. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.