Monday, 29 August 2011

Othello & the Mental Dichotomy of Muslim intelligentsia

The following is in no way a judgement on the personal piety of any Muslim, but is simply a call to attention to the dichotomy Muslims follow, whether pious or not.

Leaving the Masjid after the 29th Taraweeh, I passed the Imam’s son. He was telling a friend that they would be writing a test on Othello. “The Shakespeare story about the Muslim?” I asked.
I was met with blank stares as if I had asked, “Did they teach you that the moon is really made of cheese?”
Me: Did your teacher never tell you that Othello was a Muslim?
Student: No.
Me: Did you come across the word, “Moor” in the book?
Student: Yes.
Me: So did your teacher never explain how the Europeans used this word for Muslims?
Student: No.
Me: And you never asked what it means either?
Student: No.
Me: That’s amazing. The one book of Shakespeare mentioning a Muslim and that is not explained at the so-called Muslim school!
Student: But my teacher is quite geared up. She did English for 25 years at university.
Me: I don’t care if it’s a million years. They only tell you what they are programmed to do.
Student’s friend: They can only think in the box.

At last! A boy with intelligence! I hugged him and left.

The reader might fairly ask, “What’s the big deal?” The incident and Othello are not big deals, but the problem they reflect is a big deal. Here we have a situation where a “Muslim” school has an opportunity to discuss Muslims and Islam whilst still meeting the state’s syllabus requirements but the word “Muslim” is never even mentioned. What degrees are acquired in 25 years I do not know, but would one with much lesser qualifications not feel the need to explain a word which let alone appears in the book, but is actually part of the title, “Othello, the Moor of Venice.”?

The big deal is the dichotomy of Muslim intelligentsia, the separation of their religion and career into two distinct compartments. Muslims most certainly have to acquire mastery in every permissible field. The problem is that often this mastery is never used in service of Dien, but only for one’s personal career. Were Muslims to win the Nobel Prize in every field, in no way would the glory of Islam be elevated, simply because the winners would not see it as such.

There is no need for the Dichotomy the West has invented and which our Muslim youth slavishly ape. There is no reason why a university graduate cannot implement his knowledge with the outlook of a slave of Allah. Have you ever heard of a Muslim doctor, filled with awe, telling his fellow guests at a wedding how he sees the signs of his Creator in the human body? Have you ever heard of an architect advising a Muslim client on matters of Qiblah; separate entrances for females for when they’d host gatherings; or an Ibaadah room or area? Have you ever heard of a Muslim businessman channelling his investments (not charity) in such a way that the Ummah can benefit at the same time e.g. setting up a Halaal gelatine facility?

If you have, I would love to hear from you. Perhaps it just so happens that I have only heard of Muslim intelligentsia who are victims of this dichotomy, whilst the overwhelming majority whom I do not know are actually epitomes of the mantra of the past few decades, “Islam is a complete way of life,” or have coloured themselves with Islamic vision as Allah says in al-Baqarah: 138, “The colouring of Allah! Who is better in colouring than Allah! And we are His worshippers!”

One of the best examples I know of a professional coloured in Allah-vision is the chemist of Damascus. (Here chemist means an expert in chemistry, not the South African word for pharmacist). The Crusaders advanced with wooden siege towers against Akka. The Muslim defenders shot Greek Fire at the towers, but the Crusaders had devised a coating making the wood resistant to the Greek Fire. A chemist from Damascus who had settled in Akka informed Salaahudien rahimahullah that he had discovered a component which when added to the Greek Fire, would penetrate the Crusader coating. His invention proved effective. Salaahudien rahimahullah summoned him to reward him. He replied, “The only reward I desire is the pleasure of Allah.”

All I witness though, is a dichotomy so strong, that even when a reference is made to Islam in the title of a book, the teacher at a “Muslim” school is pre-programmed to be blind to it.

سليمان الكندي

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