"You don't wear Hijab, and that is why Allah made you miss yesterday's Juloos downtown," she blurted out, chomping noisily on her veal Biryani.
Majlis was over, and everyone had settled down for dinner in our host's living room, talking excitedly about the Queen's Park procession. Mid-sentence in an expression of distress at not being able to attend due to some miscommunication, the Aunty's outburst shut me up all right!
Had this blatant judgment call been in private, I would have retorted with equal passion. But teenage uprising or not, even I knew better than to disrespect an elder in public. It simply wasn't the Indian way to behave. A peace-maker quickly changed the topic, and soon all was forgotten in light of the upcoming cricket world cup. Looking back all those years ago, I cannot help but wonder at her display of such extremist behavior.
Is bullying really the best way to go about, if it is Islam (and the practice of) that one is trying to propagate?
It is mentioned in Usul al-Kafi, that someone once asked Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) for the definition of good character and good behavior. He replied, "Politeness, sweet speech, and meeting people with courtesy." Also, is history not filled with examples of only the utmost display of courteousness on the part of our Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), even when faced with the worst of atrocities? And was it not that very display of good manners that attracted scores of people towards Islam?
In the spirit of denouncing extremists across the globe, whose destructive efforts are visible for all to see, have we overlooked the ones creating a rift within our own communities?
The extremist within packs enough terror to sabotage not just the religion of peace that is Islam, but also the community itself! One such example is said Aunty. Let alone every third sister and brother on YouTube who has taken it upon her or himself to 'save' those that have gone off track, or continue to remain ignorant. This is 'accomplished' sometimes in a most offensive manner, both online and in person. Another brother, on Twitter this time, proclaims that cheering victory at a soccer game left him, "more najis (impure) than a Patel (reference to Hindu surname)." My list could go on without end, but we all already know who they are. They live, breathe, and destruct right here, from within us.
I am of the faith, and am at times forced to say to myself, "This person needs to get off their high horse and revisit Islam 101!" What impression then are we having on those not of the faith?
There is no denying that Amr Bil Ma'ruf (directing others towards good) and Nahi 'Anil Munkar (directing others away from evil) are two very important acts of faith. But even more important is the manner in which these two acts are carried out. Furthermore, Imam Ali says, "Whoever is aware of his own faults will have no time for the faults of others." (Sayings and Wisdom of Imam Ali) In which case, how about replacing scary speech with noble action for a change, and letting our good character and good behavior represent Islam instead?
"Plunge into the depths until you reach the truth," I believe, is our first Imam's greatest gift to us. I remember distinctly those early years when I began to truly question faith; to differentiate between some of the cultural traditions that my community had been practicing in the name of Islam for eons (that actually had nothing to do with the religion itself) and the Islam that was unfolding before me, in the form of authentic books and contemporary lectures. I wanted just that – to understand everything from basic building blocks and Islamic history to variances in cultural religious practices and discrepancies between scholars.
It was one thing being told to do something without being explained why or how, and entirely another, to discover, understand, and practice for myself.
Had the Aunty come forth at any other time, prior to my own resolve of figuring out the truth, I would have successfully washed my hands off of a faith that represented such extremism!
Years, books, speeches, articles, lessons, conferences, and dialogues later, I have learned but one thing – that Islam, and its understanding and practice, are not just a way of life, but a life-long journey. It will do nobody any good (and neither to Islam) to be intimidated, restricted, and sometimes even alienated by those that lay undue claim on dictating observance and understanding.
Such is the concern of countless today, and I am reminded of it at almost every community occasion, family gathering, or even a casual discussion with non-Muslim friends. If such negativity is allowed to fester, it will only serve to drive mankind away from our glorious religion of peace; both, within our communities and amongst those outside that wish to take a peek inside, at what Islam really is all about.
Imam Ali puts it best, "The life transaction (religion) of Islam is not about having opinions; it is most surely about following good example." (Sayings and Wisdom of Imam Ali)